Service planned today in storm-damaged church
The Rev. Arthur Humphrey was in hospice care when superstorm Sandy's tidal surge deluged his Little Ferry church, St. Margaret of Cortona.
As the devastation came into focus, church trustees and Father Humphrey's friends made the decision to shield the pastor from the awful news.
"We needed to," said Regina Coyle, a trustee of the 600-family Roman Catholic parish, which serves Little Ferry and Moonachie, the Bergen County towns hit hardest by Sandy. "Even if he understood what was going on, we didn't want him bothered by it. We needed to keep him at peace with everything he was going through."
The man known as Father Art fought melanoma for several years and died early Saturday at Villa Marie Claire, the residential hospice in Saddle River operated by Holy Name Medical Center. He was 63.
A Union County native, Father Humphrey came to St. Margaret of Cortona in 2000 from Montclair State University, where he was a chaplain and chairman of the interfaith campus ministry. He became an essential part of the Little Ferry community, offering prayers and benedictions |at Borough Council meetings and even officiating at Mayor Mauro Raguseo's April wedding.
At his last public appearance, he said a prayer at the June ceremony naming the Little Ferry post office after Marine Sgt. Matthew Fenton, a native son killed in Iraq in 2006.
"Father Art was a good man and quite the perfectionist," said Raguseo, a former Eucharistic minister. "He was very regimented and did things a certain way, but he was a great pastor and had a good sense of humor — a dry sense of humor."
Coyle said Father Humphrey was "very organized and very much in charge — he commanded a room when he walked in."
Father Humphrey entered Villa Marie Claire a week before the Oct. 29 storm. He arrived from a nursing facility in Teaneck.
The tidal surge sent 3 feet |of water from the Hackensack River into St. Margaret's sanctuary and 2 feet into the |social hall. Floodwaters also damaged the rectory and destroyed Father Humphrey's garaged |SUV.
Sanctuary ï¾'in pieces'
Repairs at St. Margaret will cost an estimated $750,000, said Jim Goodness, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Newark.
"We had crews on the scene very quickly and they will continue to be there for some weeks to come," he said, adding that it is too early to predict when repairs will be completed.
Goodness said 50 church and school buildings in the archdiocese had storm damage, but St. Margaret's was among the worst. Coyle said the floodwaters left the sanctuary "in pieces" and ruined the public address system, organ and vestments.
Two months after they celebrated St. Margaret's centennial, parishioners are worshiping now at nearby churches, including St. Francis of Assisi in Ridgefield Park. But they will be return to St. Margaret at 3 p.m. today tues for the first phase of Father Humphrey's wake. The sanctuary has heat and electricity, and the mold has been removed and the air tested, but there is still much work to do, Coyle said.
The archdiocese approved plans to hold the wake in the sanctuary.
"We will lay him to rest knowing we will move on and restore this church," Coyle said.
From St. Margaret, Father Humphrey's casket will be taken to St. Francis in Ridgefield Park for a 7:30 p.m. vigil service, followed by another visitation until 9 p.m. The funeral Mass will be held at St. Francis on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., with Newark Archbishop John J. Myers officiating. Burial will be in Immaculate Conception Cemetery, Montclair.
Among Father Humphrey's survivors are his brothers, Edward and Raymond.
Raguseo said Father Humphrey would have been proud of St. Margaret's role in the storm response. The social hall served as a community evacuation center until the water began to pour in. After the storm, the social hall was cleaned and pressed into service as a clearinghouse for relief supplies.
"I'm happy Father Art's casket will be at St. Margaret's for at least a brief time, even though the church is not near to being back to normal," the mayor said.
"This was his church, and he put everything he had into it for 12 years," he added. "If have no doubt that where he is now, at the gates to heaven, he is advocating for his parish and holding us in his prayers. And I know that will help us in our recovery."
Published in The Record on Nov. 27, 2012