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“There is no way to overthrow God”: Catholic students face the “hurricane” with faith

Students at a Catholic liberal arts college in California told OSV News they are more ready than ever for the new school year, after weathering both a major storm and an earthquake the same day.

On August 20, Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall in Southern California, the first to hit the state in 84 years. The previous hurricane spread widely across Baja California, but still brought flooding, downed trees and tornado warnings.

Hours later, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck near the town of Ojai, about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Both events were quickly labeled a “hurricane,” with the quake causing “widespread (but) minor” damage to Thomas Aquinas College near Santa Paula, California, executive director Christopher Weinkopf said. university relations.

Fire department personnel attend a fire call following a 5.1 earthquake as Tropical Storm Hilary approaches in Pasadena, California on August 20, 2023. The Classes at Thomas Aquinas College in Ojai were interrupted by the earthquake and hurricane. . (Photo by OSV News/Mario Anzuoni, Reuters)

No one was hurt at school, but a statue of the university’s patron saint fell in the dining hall and “there are a lot of cracks in the plaster” all over campus, with most buildings affected, Weinkopf told OSV News.

In the 135-foot-tall bell tower of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, the school’s flagship building, the frame of a carriage was warped, he said.

Although an initial examination by firefighters and college officials found no structural damage, the school closed the chapel and postponed its opening Mass of the Holy Spirit – a tradition at the start of the year. for many Catholic schools — until Ventura County inspectors gave the go-ahead on Aug. 21.

Newcomers to the school’s California campus — Thomas Aquinas College has an East Coast campus in Northfield, Mass. — admitted the hurricane wasn’t exactly on this year’s schedule.

“I didn’t expect rain or earthquake activity when I applied to a small college in the sunny mountains of Southern California,” said freshman Liam McDaniel, a Tacoma native. , Washington.

“Like most of my peers, I didn’t expect a ‘hurricane’ to start the year,” said Peter King, senior of Lenexa, Kansas.

Sophia Colarelli, a senior from Lockport, Illinois, said she and her fellow students “made the most of the hurricane.”

“We put together a slip-n-slide, and it was a great way to get to know the freshmen,” she said. “The activity brought us all together during this intense time, and it was a bit surreal: it was raining, but we were having fun sliding and sliding!

The earthquake itself, however, was more disturbing.

“I had just finished a game of foosball with one of my dorm mates. I was completely surprised because I had never experienced a noticeable earthquake before,” said George Powell, a student from Alpharetta, Georgia. “Basically, it was over right after, because I had time to react. »

Even the California students were somewhat shaken.

“We get earthquakes sometimes, but this was definitely one of the biggest ones I’ve had in a while, so it was kind of a shock,” Pleasant Hill senior Laura Poon said in a statement. California.

Thomas Aquinas College President Paul J. O’Reilly said in an Aug. 21 statement that he and the school community are “deeply grateful that the region has weathered both the storm and the earthquake so well. , and above all that everything remained safe”.

For many students, this unusual experience was a time of prayer and reflection.

“The combination of earthquake and storm was shocking and alarming, but also strangely invigorating. …Like Elijah on the mountain, God is not in the moment of the earthquake or the storm, but in that silent moment of reflection and processing that follows,” said David Holmes, a freshman in Lander, Wyoming. . “A simultaneous experience is the awesome power of God, but also the fact that he watches over each of us.”

“I was in one of my buddies’ room and we were talking…when (the quake) started,” said Josh King, a sophomore from Buena Park, Calif. “He started freaking out. He’s from Wisconsin; he didn’t know what to do!

King noted that his friend’s room had a bookcase with a crucifix, an icon of the Sacred Heart, and a few statues of saints in his room, “but those things remained perfectly fine.”

“We looked at everything that had fallen, but the library and the statues didn’t fall,” he said. “And we were like, ‘This is going to be a great semester! No matter what, God cannot be overthrown – he is always with us.

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