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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette St. Mary’s Catholic Church, rebuilt after the original century-old building burned down in 1993, is one of 13 local houses of worship featured on the City of Churches Tour.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Trinity Episcopal Church, with its soaring interior, is on the tour.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Fort Wayne Baptist Church is part of the first-ever tour.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Stained glass like this at Fort Wayne Baptist won’t glow on a nighttime tour, but some will be shown on video.

Sunday, December 04, 2016 9:40 am

Tour historic churches

Steve Warden | The Journal Gazette

The curious – those old enough to remember – still ask about the fire that destroyed St. Mary’s Catholic Church more than 20 years ago. Newspaper photographs and television accounts recorded the spectacular blaze that resulted when lightning struck the steeple of the historic church on the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Lafayette Street.

Surely, that Sept. 2, 1993, day – a Thursday – will be revisited when the church, rebuilt in 1998, opens its doors Friday as part of the inaugural City of Churches Tour.

St. Mary’s will be one of 13 churches, many of them downtown, that will be open to evening tours from 6 to 10 p.m. Other participating churches are Bethlehem Lutheran, 3705 S. Anthony Blvd.; Emmanuel Lutheran, 917 W. Jefferson Blvd.; First Presbyterian, 300 W. Wayne St.; First Missionary, 701 W. Rudisill Blvd.; First Wayne Street United Methodist, 300 E. Wayne St.; Fort Wayne Baptist, 2323 Fairfield Ave.; Plymouth Congregational, 501 W. Berry St.; Redeemer Lutheran, 202 W. Rudisill Blvd.; Shepherd of the City Lutheran, 1301 S. Anthony Blvd.; St. John Lutheran, 729 W. Washington Blvd.; St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran, 1126 Barr St.; and Trinity Episcopal, 611 W. Berry St.

The tour was the idea of Cornelia Schulz, an Emmanuel Lutheran member and German immigrant.

"I’ve lived here for 18 years," Schulz says. "This has been a long tradition in Germany called ‘Long Night of the Churches.’ There, they’re actually open until midnight, but I thought in Fort Wayne, that might be pushing it.

"We took the initiative and contacted a few downtown churches and went to visit them," she says. "Out of that, we started a conversation about how could we contribute something to downtown and to the architectural history, and decided that would be good and have it on Advent and have it on a Friday night so more people are able to walk around or drive around and visit."

Volunteers from each church will describe their church’s history while giving tours through their facilities. St. Mary’s parishioner Andrea Thomas expects to field several questions about the ’93 disaster. She’ll point out a crucifix that survived the fire, but also a boiler explosion that destroyed the church in the 1850s.

"It was moved after surviving the explosion," Thomas says of the crucifix. "It has now migrated to this building. It’s a crucifix that has been in three worship spaces."

Greg Enstrom, pastor at First Wayne Street United Methodist, says there is no particular format for any of the churches, and that he plans to help with the tour.

"The unfortunate thing is it’s at night, so the stained-glass windows aren’t spectacular like they are during the day," Enstrom says. Instead, he says, visitors can view the windows’ grandeur via a video.

"I haven’t been in all the downtown churches," Enstrom says. "I’d like to sneak off and visit one or two of them."