Restoration, repairs underway at Minnesota church after arson destroyed sacristy

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Minnesota church arson
St. Edward Catholic Church, Elmdale, Minnesota. Wikimedia Commons

ELMDALE, Minn. (OSV News) — Restoration, maintenance and repairs are underway at St. Edward Church in Elmdale that saw its sacristy destroyed and others parts of the building damaged by a mid-July fire that firefighters determined was set intentionally.

The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a suspect, but that is all that is known right now, according to Father Jimmy Joseph, who was assigned pastor of St. Edward Parish in the Diocese of St. Cloud just three weeks before the July 18 blaze.

In the parish’s Sunday bulletin, Father Joseph reported July 30, “We have met with the insurance adjusters and building inspector. The pews have been removed for cleaning. The statues are being sent to a company in the (Twin) cities for restoration. This is a restoration, maintenance, repair project so we won’t know yet how long it will take. We need prayers and support for the people and the church. The rest will happen and is in God’s hands.”

Church damage

A day after the church was damaged, brothers Bob and Jerry Theisen worked in the heat to board up windows and cover holes in case of rain. Throughout the day others stopped by to see if there was anything they could do to help.

“I’ve had people calling me all day offering their support and prayers, and that really helps,” Father Joseph told The Central Minnesota Catholic, St. Cloud’s diocesan newspaper.

The priest discovered the fire as he was locking the church doors for the evening, and firefighters were called to the scene about 5:30 p.m. Two local fire departments worked together to keep the fire from spreading through the building.

Besides destroying the sacristy, the fire also damaged part of the sanctuary, and the rest of the building sustained smoke and water damage.

Vestments, cassocks, a monstrance, chalices, ciboriums, the Book of the Gospels, sacramentary and lectionaries are just some of the items lost, Father Joseph added.

Though they had to smash the door of the tabernacle, firefighters were able to get the Blessed Sacrament out in time.

A second fire

“I was sorry to learn of the fire that occurred in the sacristy of St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Elmdale on Tuesday,” said Bishop Patrick M. Neary of St. Cloud. “Thankfully, the damage was limited to the church sacristy, although the church interior did experience smoke damage.”

“It just makes me feel sad,” said Bob Theisen, who has been in charge of maintenance at the church for the past five years. “The church is a place that you feel comfortable coming to with your problems and to talk to Jesus, but now that’s been taken away for this parish.”

Bob was getting ready for a finance council meeting at his parish, St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis, when he got the call that the building was on fire.

He rushed to the church, worrying that it might have been caused by something he forgot to turn off or that there had been a problem with the boiler. When he arrived and spoke with firefighters and with Father Joseph, it became clear to him that the fire had been intentionally set, he said.

There is evidence that a second fire was set near the main entry doors of the church, but didn’t take. A small pile of burned paper and a spot on the carpet can be seen in the entryway.

“Our prayers are with the pastor, Father Jimmy Joseph, and the parishioners of St. Edward’s,” Bishop Neary said. “On behalf of the Diocese of St. Cloud, I’m grateful to Father Jimmy Joseph and the first responders for managing this situation so well.”

“This shouldn’t happen in a small town like this,” said Father Joseph, who is pastor of the Catholic communities of St. Edward, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Mary in Upsala. “It shouldn’t happen, but we’ll get through it. The prayers and support from the parishioners and people around make us feel very peaceful even though the scene is still haunting us.”

Dianne Towalski is social media manager at The Central Minnesota Catholic, magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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