Students’ reaction praised after flood at Newman Center

CHAMPAIGN — More than 200 students who had just moved into the north wing of Newman Hall at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois had to find new living arrangements last weekend after a flash flood knocked out power to the one-year-old building.

Nearly five inches of rain fell in the span of a half hour late Thursday, Aug. 27, backing up storm sewers along Sixth Street, flooding the outdoor main transformer and sending up to five feet of water into the north building’s sub-basement, where the back-up generator and air control equipment are housed.

Msgr. Greg Ketcham, head chaplain and director of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, praised both the students who had to find new living arrangements for two days as well as those who opened their doors and hearts to them.

He called the responses “genuine and beautiful reflections of the faith of the students.”

THAT SENTIMENT was shared by others, including Tristan Pisarczyk, director of operations.

After the flooding was discovered at about 11 p.m. Thursday, about 40 to 50 students volunteered their help mopping and cleaning up, he said.
Pisarczyk said it took all day Friday to pump water out of the sub-basement, where the water was so deep that the heavy air handling equipment “floated.” Necessary repair units were shipped overnight, and the main power was restored on Saturday. After all necessary safety and secuity systems were tested, the students were allowed to return on Sunday afternoon.

The north wing is the major Newman Hall expansion completed last year. It houses the dining room, which was closed over the weekend as well. It re-opened on Monday night.

Over the weekend, some affected students went home, others bunked with Newman Hall students in the largely unaffected south wing, and some stayed in the rooms of friends throughout campus, including at the nearby Illini Tower, which also opened its cafeteria to Newman residents.

About 50 freshman Newman Hall residents took another option for the weekend — attending Newman’s freshman retreat at an off-campus site. The retreat drew a record 100 total participants, according to David Hazen, director of communications. Hazen also praised the students’ reaction to the flood.
“They all jumped to help out,” he said. Some were taking care of wheelchair bound residents. “They watched out for one another, which is really great.”
Pisarczyk told The Catholic Post that the affected areas are being studied to prevent a recurrence of the flood. A higher wall may be built around the transformer, for example, even though it’s already located within a raised “planter” area. Talks with the city are under way to determine if the sewers are adequate.

St. John’s Catholic Chapel was not affected by the water, but Msgr. Ketcham made sure those attending weekend Masses knew how he was affected by the examples of the students.

In one of the readings at this weekend’s Masses, the prophet Isaiah quotes God as saying that people pay “lip service” while their hearts are far from God. Not so with the Newman students, said Msgr. Ketcham.
He called their response “a great reflection of paying the Lord homage with their lips, and also their hearts.”

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