Vallombrosa 300x100 12.2017

Napa parish becomes ‘rogue’ shelter in Wine Country firestorms

23 10.26.17_Napa.Mass PAGEFather David Jenuwine, parochial vicar at St. Apollinaris Parish in downtown Napa, used a folding table to celebrate Mass at the U.S. National Guard site at Napa County Airport on Oct. 14. St. Apollinaris Church and school became an overflow emergency shelter for evacuated homeowners, vineyard workers and others affected by the Atlas and Nuns fires. (Courtesy photo)

October 26, 2017
Christina Gray

St. Apollinaris Parish in downtown Napa morphed from a church offering coffee and donuts after its morning Mass on Oct. 9 into an ad hoc fire relief shelter by nightfall.

The parish and school, one of the southernmost of the Diocese of Santa Rosa’s 48 parishes, was flanked by the distant smoke of two fires that morning; the Nuns Fire to the northwest and the Atlas Fire to the northeast. The fires broke out within minutes of each other about 10 p.m. Oct. 8.

23 Jenuwine THUMBBut the flames moved more quickly than the Mass. By the time Mass was over, people who had left their homes in the nearby hills to attend were informed they could not return home, Father David Jenuwine, parochial vicar of St. Apollinaris told Catholic San Francisco.

By lunchtime, someone brought sandwiches and “it went from there,” he said. “It was really God’s work because we didn’t know what we were doing at first.”

Clergy, staff, school families and other parishioners – some of whom lost their own homes to the fires – worked around the clock in the early days of the fires to supply hot meals, water, bedding and, basic supplies to anyone in need. The parish also added a second daily Mass and offered an evening prayer service.

Father Jenuwine went to the U.S. National Guard site at the Napa County Airport and set up a folding table to offer Mass to the men and women called to duty for what is being called the largest and most destructive outbreak of wildfires in California history. As the fires grew over the next few days, displacing more people from their homes, the official Red Cross shelters in Napa became “absolutely overwhelmed,” said Father Jenuwine, a former automotive engineer who was ordained a priest in 2009 in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, and spent seven years as a parish priest there before the Santa Rosa diocese assigned him to St. Apollinaris last year.

Officials asked the parish whether it could set up cots in the school gym to handle their overflow, and with that, St. Apollinaris became what Father Jenuwine called a “rogue shelter,” housing at its peak, 70 fire victims.

The origin of the word “rogue” comes from the Latin “rogare,” noted Father Jenuwine, which means “to ask or pray for help.”

“We were a body of sorts,” he said. “Our pastor Father Balaswamy Govindu acted as the head with Adelina Gomez, business manager as the brains.” Youth minister Dominic Figueroa was the heart, he said, and parish secretary Valentina Deluna and her husband Deacon Jesse Deluna were the hands and feet. Street evangelism leader Paul Obranovitch ran the kitchen with Sara Decreval and Pauline Seago and Nancy Haymond coordinated volunteers and loose ends. Maintenance man Chris Chavez “was everywhere” and “I handled communications, sort of like a spinal column,” he said.

“I don’t think any of us slept for eight days,” Father Jenuwine said. “It was God’s power that kept us going.”

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