“St. Mary's burns” – that was the headline the morning after a blaze destroyed the downtown Catholic church on Sept. 2, 1993.
The blaze began when lightning hit near the steeple of the national landmark, which had been constructed in 1887. Thick smoke joined storm clouds that hung gray over the city, and rain continued while firefighters fought the blaze for more than four hours that Thursday afternoon. Chimes struck 4 p.m. at another downtown church just before the 237-foot steeple of St. Mary's crashed to the ground.
By evening, nearly all that remained were four walls and two smaller steeples.
The 250-family parish was home to many missions such as the Matthew 25 Health Clinic and a soup kitchen that provided meals for about 2,000 people a day.
“We'll have services in the parking lot if we have to,” one parishioner told The Journal Gazette on Sept. 2. “We don't have a church building, but we have the people.”
The day after St. Mary's was gutted, volunteers worked out of the back of a truck in the parking lot, distributing food for about 500 people as donations began rolling in to keep the soup kitchen going.
“Spirit of St. Mary's survives blaze” read the JG headline the next day.
– Corey McMaken, The Journal Gazette
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