Inside the mutilated ruins of Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Vladimir in Arnold stands a bronze crucifix with the face of Jesus surrounded by a fallen piece of wallpaper.
“This message is clear,” said Rev. Yaroslav Koval, pastor of the church along Kenneth Avenue which was destroyed by fire on December 4. “He doesn’t want his church to be burnt down.
“But he said to us, ‘I will be with you until the end of the world.’ “
The fire at the 74-year-old building – Arnold’s only Catholic church – caused $ 4 million in damage and left the shrine with a damp, crumpled shell.
Parts of the metal roof are twisted away from the building, exposing the sky. Aluminum sheets slam and slam against a steel beam above the nave.
Soggy prayer books fill the wooden pews and broken pendant lights hang from the ceiling.
The carpet is covered with a thick mixture of mud and mashed glass that cracks underfoot.
“We can’t change this,” Koval said. “But the church is not the building. It is a collection of souls, and we will focus our attention on our faith and our future.
Church officials expect to detail a reconstruction plan in January.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Firefighters worked for hours to contain the blaze, but their efforts were hampered by the church’s metal roof. As the roof thwarted firefighters, it simultaneously worked in favor of the church to protect the precious painted canvas icons that surrounded the altar.
“There was so much water on the paintings that the glue came off and we were able to peel them off the wall,” said Michael Haracznak, a fourth generation parishioner who in his youth served as a child of choir.
The gold paintings, barely an inch thick, were unscathed, but the walls behind them were burnt to the ground.
“The next day everyone came and a lot of screaming,” Koval said. “I told them that we will rebuild, not only materially, but that we will support each other.
“We are the church.”
Inside the shrine, the walls appear to be painted black with soot. It stinks of smoke. Incredibly, almost all Belgian-made stained-glass windows remain intact.
Firefighters also saved statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, as well as the original pulpit, all of which date from the original church building in 1911.
Other items, including the Gospel Book, tall metal crosses, the tabernacle, and decades-old shrouds, were carried by Haracznak and his fellow parishioner Joe Fedusa to the social hall as the fire broke out. rage.
A depiction of Saint Vladimir baptizing the people of Rus-Ukraine in 988 has also been recovered. The icon will be the focal point of the reconstructed church.
“I tried to enter through the door that night, but the fire department said ‘no’,” Koval said. “Miraculously, they saved our icons that are so precious to us. It was the providence of God.
Parishioner Julie Martin said thick black smoke enveloped the neighborhood and lingered in the air for three blocks.
With three churches on the corner of Kenneth Avenue and McCandless Street, Martin said she couldn’t be sure where the fire was coming from until she was practically at the church door .
She was one of the many passers-by who tearfully watched the flames pass through the building.
Martin said that with a congregation that has grown from 700 at its peak in the 1950s to just 35 today, it was struck by the number of people who flocked to the scene.
“You’re kinda going to do what you do in church, cut the grass or pinch the pierogies. Then something like that happens and you realize it’s everyone’s church, ”she said. “It is a reflection of the history of deep faith in Arnold.”
St. Vladimir was founded in 1894 with six immigrant families who provided services in a neighborhood home and later in a community hall. In 1911, 50 families requested the construction of the first church along Third Avenue.
“They came from Europe with nothing but a trunk and a pillow. They worked hard and loved to pray, and it was their faith that built this church, ”said Haracznak.
A new church, rectory, school and community hall followed over the following decades, all along Kenneth Avenue.
“These people gave their all, and we will maintain the spirit of that dedication now,” said Haracznak.
Not 18 hours after Koval attempted to run into the burning shrine, he was presiding over the Divine Liturgy from a makeshift altar in the social hall. Services will continue at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
On Thursday, the scent of buttered fried onions wafted outside the social hall, while inside a line of pierogi tongs produced 500 dozen pouches of potatoes for the weekly fundraiser. church.
“We still had to keep going,” said Fedusa, who oversees the Pierogi and Bingo committees. “It was either give up or continue.”
On December 7, more than 60 people participated in the first bingo after the fire. It was the biggest turnout in some time.
“Of course we have bingo to help pay the bills,” Koval said. “It’s more, however, to bring us together. A disaster can open a new page in the history of our parish.
“You have to try not to be attached to the building but to see the presence of God in everything. “