Florida Catholic Schools Prepare for the Arrival of Hurricane Ian With Action and Prayer

Ave Maria University in Ave Maria and Jesuit High School in Tampa have storm contingencies.

Hurricane Ian approaches Southwest Florida as a high-end Category-4 hurricane on Sept. 28.
Hurricane Ian approaches Southwest Florida as a high-end Category-4 hurricane on Sept. 28. (photo: NOAA / Public domain)

Catholic schools of all levels are taking measures to keep their students safe amid the imminent arrival of Hurricane Ian, which strengthened into a Category-4 storm overnight and hit Florida’s Gulf Coast starting on Wednesday.

Ave Maria University, a Catholic college located about an hour northeast of Naples, Florida, has canceled classes through Sept. 30. Though the school is not in the direct path of the hurricane, heavy rainfall and wind are expected. 

As of midday on Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian had reached Category-4 strength with winds of 155 mph, barely shy of a Category-5 rating. The cities of Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Port Charlotte are expected to be hit with major storm surges.

Matthew Dionisi, a freshman business major at Ave Maria, told CNA that most of his friends are remaining in their dorms, but they haven’t yet received a mandate from the school to do so. As of Wednesday, all classes at the university have been moved online, and the school says it will ask students to shelter in place if they receive a tornado warning.

In addition to online learning, Ave Maria has canceled virtually all extracurricular activities. The school is running shuttles from the dorms to the dining hall to allow students to eat.

“For the rest of the day today, please do not ride your bikes, scooters, or skateboards around campus. If you would like to go to the Dining Hall, please take one of the three van shuttles from the residence halls to the Dining Hall that are running continuously today,” reads a Sept. 28 noon announcement from the school.

“It is likely that we will continue to experience heavy rainfall and wind throughout the day. Avoid nonessential travel. Updates will continue throughout the day.”

Dionisi said the mood is generally good among most fellow students he has encountered, mainly because they know that the buildings on campus are designed to withstand a hurricane. The school, in its Sept. 28 message, noted that the campus was built to withstand a direct hit of a Category-4 hurricane — 130-155 mph sustained winds.

Dionisi said he also is confident that if an evacuation becomes necessary, the school will be able to provide that. He said despite being disappointed that he is no longer able to sing in the choir at an upcoming Mass — which had been scheduled for Wednesday evening — most of the people he has encountered are in good spirits and relaxed.

The Tampa Bay area, two and a half hours north of Naples, is expected to suffer hurricane-force winds and heavy rain likely to cause flash flooding and power outages, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for coastal and low-lying areas, and Tampa officials warned residents on Tuesday to take the hurricane seriously, as first responders are not sent out if winds are higher than 40 mph.

Jesuit High School in Tampa, an all-boys school, has canceled all classes and extracurricular activities through Sept. 30.

Jimmy Mitchell, director of campus ministry, told CNA that the school itself is not at particular risk of storm surge and that it has storm-proof windows and other safety features. Still, he said, many of the school’s families have evacuated north, but others have decided to ride out the hurricane.

“I know the Jesuits are staying in their residence and offering Mass and many prayers for our greater school community each day,” Mitchell told CNA by text.

“Lots of students [are] connecting in small groups to pray Rosaries over Zoom and things like that as well,” he said.

St. Leo University, a Benedictine college located 40 minutes northeast of Tampa, also issued a weather advisory on Tuesday, canceling classes. While the university is closed for normal business operations, only essential personnel and students who are being sheltered may be on campus, the school says.

In the nearby Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Gregory Parkes on Tuesday asked for prayers for “protection during the storm.”

“Loving God, maker of heaven and earth, protect us in your love and mercy. Send the spirit of Jesus to be with us to still our fears and to give us confidence in the stormy waters. Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence, calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith,” Bishop Parkes prayed in a message emailed to each parish in his diocese and posted on the diocese’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“Guard us from harm during the storm and renew our faith to serve you faithfully. Give us the courage to face all difficulties and the wisdom to see the ways your Spirit binds us together in mutual assistance,” he prayed. “With confidence, we make our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”