April 3, 2016

I Survived the Outage of '16!

It didn’t seem that big of deal at the time.

“Power went out in the main body of the church.” 

That’s the first text I received from co-worker Karen Slattery at 11:10 a.m. on Saturday, March 12.  Karen assured me that Sam Gentile, our maintenance engineer had been summoned and that he summoned ComEd.  The only reason she was telling me was because there was one of my tour groups in the Cathedral.  They were doing fine with natural light.

No big deal.

Around 1:00 p.m., I wandered over to the office to do some copying for a project I had going at home.  While I was there, I called Sam to check on our progress.  He said ComEd was onsite, and he expected everything to be at full power in an hour or so.

Still no big deal.

Five minutes later, the rectory phone rang.  It was Sam    asking me to come talk to the ComEd guys.

Maybe a big deal?

As the ComEd guys explained to me, we’d “blown a fuse” on one of the utility poles in the alley.  The line runs from the pole, under our parking lot, to the electrical vault just beside door 26.  They needed to access both ends of the line to make the repair. To access the electrical vault which is underground, they needed a special crew and equipment to do it safely.

Big deal!!!

The special crew had been requested but was coming from an unknown location at an unknown time.  When I asked if we’d be at full power in time for 5:00 p.m. Mass, he knew that answer: Nope.  I gave him my name and number (oh, you’re the utility pole lady!) and asked him to keep in touch.

After sharing all of the news with Fr. Brad Baker, the decision was made to go ahead with 5:00 p.m. Mass.   Sam rented and installed a free-standing PA system, and I reached out to all of the ministers of the Mass so they knew what to expect.   Everyone was so cooperative and helpful! Again and again, I heard the phrase “what can I do to help?”

By the time I went back to the Cathedral about 4:00 p.m., it had begun to drizzle, and the natural light coming in was pretty grey.  Sunset was at 5:56 p.m.  We were fighting a losing battle for daylight.

There was an excitement in the Cathedral as the large crowd found their pews and  wondered what was going on.  Before Mass, Deacon John Shea explained our circumstances and suggested everyone use their flashlights on their phones to see the missal and order of worship.

As Fr. Joe Tapella began Mass, the excited energy changed.   With only the crucifix and the Blessed Mother and Joseph altars lit, the hundreds of people gathered  became peaceful and quiet.  The rental PA system was  certainly lacking, so you had to listen intently to hear the words being said and sung.  That brought a stillness to the congregation.  And in the cloak of darkness, the responses were strong and clear.  It was truly a special liturgy, and I was blessed to be there.

Mass ended at 5:46 p.m. and with the dreary weather, the interior illumination was long past dim as the congregation left.  After helping Fr. Joe lock up, I checked in with the ComEd guys in the parking lot (no news) and headed to the store for supper.  I had just pulled into the Jewel lot, when ComEd called to tell me that the fire was out.  It turns out the errant utility pole started sparking and where there are sparks, there’s eventually fire.  Of course there is.

Over the course of the evening, ComEd provided a regular stream of updates.  The special crew arrived, and the work was progressing.   By 11:30 p.m., they were close to done.  At 12:30 a.m., they said they needed to access the building.  Could I send over someone with keys? I could.  By 1:30 a.m., the lights and sound system were fully functional.  Even though it was still Lent, flipping the switch was an   alleluia moment!

When I put my head on my pillow at 2:08 a.m. (actually 3:08 a.m. because this was the night daylight savings time went into effect), I laughed that this was certainly one of those “other duties as assigned” days that are so common in church work.  But despite the hassle, it was a day filled with so much grace exhibited by the kindness and cooperation of so many.

Eileen Hooks Gutierrez
Director of Development
815-722-6653, ext. 242


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