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St. Joan incinerated again

“Dangerous,” “ugly” monstronsity yanked by charitable stranger.

Sister Linda Lukiewski got a hand from Billy Cooper removing an old incinerator. Now she needs help with repairs on the site.
Sister Linda Lukiewski got a hand from Billy Cooper removing an old incinerator. Now she needs help with repairs on the site.Read moreStu Bykofsky / DAILY NEWS STAFF

"ON MY tombstone it will say 'Nothing is simple,' " says Linda Lukiewski, an indefatigable nun on a mission from God.

Yesterday was not a simple day.

A member of the order of Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Linda, 64, has been the mainspring at St. Joan of Arc in Harrowgate, downgraded in 2013 by the Archdiocese from a parish to what's called a "worship site."

The "worship site" - a rectory, convent and picturesque chapel - was marred by a century-old, no-longer-working cast iron incinerator that gave Sister Linda the chills.

"First, it's dangerous," she says. "I have kids playing out there and it's an environmental hazard. It's too close for comfort for me and it's ugly."

The kids are the 35 children, from kindergarten to sixth grade, in the St. Joan after-school program weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. They are picked up from two nearby schools - Webster Elementary at Frankford and Ontario, and the Ad Prima Charter at Frankford and Venango.

She wanted the ugly incinerator removed, but didn't have the money to get it done.

A friend of St. Joan's contacted Billy Cooper, the 40-year-old owner of the Philadelphia Recycling Company, who came out to take a look.

"Here's another thing where I won't make money," he tells me he was thinking, "but sometimes you just do the right thing."

Maybe it helped that he was asked during the holiday season, when we should be thinking about doing for others. Cooper agreed to tackle the job.

I met him in St. Joan's yard yesterday morning as he and Charlie Evans, a Port Richmond demolition guy, went to work. Evans arrived with his flatbed truck with a power winch so strong it could pull a laugh out of the Grinch.

Cooper's been in recycling only eight years, after floating through a few other careers seeking a good fit. He tried "wearing the suit," but always remembered doing demolition during summers while attending Towson University in Maryland, where he majored in English Lit.

His degree qualified him to be a teacher, "but I wouldn't have been a good teacher. It wasn't my calling."

Sister Linda's calling came early and loud.

The Port Richmond native was teaching in parochial schools in Trenton even before receiving her bachelor's degree from Chestnut Hill College in 1981, followed by a master's in elementary administration from Boston College in 1986.

That degree might have been useful in Bethlehem and Newark inner-city schools, maybe less so for the six years she worked in a remote Guatemalan village with and for the Mayans.

There were other stops along the way before her assignment three years ago to somehow keep the candle alive at St. Joan of Arc.

It's become a bonfire. In addition to after-school, there are English classes, daily communion, a weekly Spanish-language Mass and a community pantry.

She succeeds because she boldly asks for what she needs. She says she knows no other way. (Personal disclosure: I joined her recently launched St. Joan of Arc advisory board after she asked me. Knowing how hard she works and how great the need, it's hard to say no.)

Cooper figured pulling the incinerator would be like extracting a tooth, taking an hour or so.

It wasn't that simple.

In pulling the "tooth," part of an adjoining brick wall came down, exposing the basement boiler.

When the winch pulled the century-old incinerator toward the flatbed, it cracked and crumbled, its steel sides tearing like construction paper. A large pile of bricks tumbled out of its interior.

The incinerator is gone, but a pile of bricks and a broken brick wall remain.

With Cooper's charitable gesture, and the season, in mind, I will mimic Sister Linda and boldly ask, is there a bricklayer or company that would make a compassionate gift of repairing the wall at St. Joan's?

My telephone number is below.


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky