Students at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula were already bracing themselves for Mother Nature when she decided to knock twice.
On Sunday, Aug. 20, students, faculty, administrators and staff were preparing for the first day of school on Monday by holing up indoors on account of Hurricane Hilary (later downgraded to a tropical storm) that was set to deluge the area with heavy rain and wind.
As the first raindrops began settling in during the afternoon, the Catholic college was jolted by a 5.1 earthquake centered in nearby Ojai.
Although no one was harmed, the tremor — along with several significant aftershocks — caused the bell in the 135-foot-high belltower of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel to become dislodged and a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas in the school’s dining hall to come down.
Extensive plaster repairs will be needed “in most if not all campus buildings,” the college said in an Aug. 21 release.
Ventura County officials and the Ventura County Fire Department determined that there were no signs of structural damage to the chapel, but the facade is still being evaluated for its stability. Until then, the plaza outside the chapel has been closed until further notice.
The earthquake damage also forced the postponement of Monday morning’s Mass of the Holy Spirit at the chapel, which marks the college’s beginning of the school year. When the chapel was determined to be stable, the Mass was moved to Monday afternoon.
The college also performed its matriculation ceremony on Monday, when freshmen are formally welcomed as Thomas Aquinas College’s newest students at St. Cecilia Hall’s Fritz B. Burns Auditorium.
All told, Tropical Storm Hilary moved through Southern California on Sunday into Monday, dumping record rainfall in the region, but largely keeping damage to a minimum.
“We are profoundly grateful that the region weathered both the storm and the earthquake so well, and especially that all remained safe,” said Thomas Aquinas College President Paul J. O’Reilly. “We give thanks to God, to all those who have kept the college in their prayers, and to county officials, who have been so thorough and thoughtful in their assistance. We are delighted that we can move forward, undeterred, in our noble mission of Catholic education, now in its 53rd year.”