On Thursday, May 16, 2013, a major fire broke out at St. Mary Church. The fire department was informed around 6:30 PM, and the initial fire was subdued by about 11:00 PM. The roof area continued to smolder through the night, and another small fire broke out around 4:00 AM before being quickly extinguished by patrolling fire fighters. The community at St. Mary will never be able to adequately thank our local Willimantic Fire Department and the other eight fire companies that worked so quickly and diligently to save our church building! Our fire men and women worked with great skill and fervor, and many experts have told us that without such a professional and thorough response, our church building would have burned to the ground, as happens 85% of the time when churches catch on fire. Thank you to all our brave fire fighters; we will keep you in our prayers!
Thanks to unwavering support from Bishop Michael Cote, our own parishioners, and our fellow parishioners within the Corpus Christi Community, as well as from churches, synagogues, schools, and individuals from Windham and beyond, we have been able to repair, renovate and rebuild! We have now celebrated our joyous reopening.
On Sunday, June 14, 2015, we held a Welcome Prayer Service at 5:00 p.m. We prayed and sang together, listened to our beautiful new pipe organ, learned about the renovation, and had an opportunity to walk around the church to see the craftsmanship for ourselves.
On Saturday, June 20, 2015, at 4:30 p.m., our church, filled with joyous parishioners and visitors, was officially reopened with a beautiful Rededication Mass concelebrated by Bishop Michael Cote, Father Roger “Red” Lamoureux, our pastor, and other clergy. Firefighters and restoration contractors, including general project contractor Pelletier Builders, as honored guests, were applauded for their heroic efforts to save the church and for their outstanding craftsmanship in restoring this beautiful building. Three music groups (adult choir, folk group and children's choir) provided inspiring music with strong participation from the entire congregation. Our parish trustees, Sister Sally Tolles and Mr. Albert Harbec, presented the readings, and parishioners from several of our ministries filled other roles during the Mass. Deacons Jeff Ellis and Peter Langevin assisted the bishop. Just before the final blessing, Bishop Cote presented Father Red with a wonderful surprise: a framed portrait of Father Red painted by the John A. Canning Co. This was received with great enthusiasm by those attending, and we hope to see it hanging soon! After Mass all were invited to attend a delightful reception in the school gym with excellent food and much celebration. Parishioners and visitors lingered and chatted with one another and the clergy, including Bishop Cote and, of course, our happy pastor! The Altnaveigh Inn and Restaurant of Mansfield provided the food for our event.
We will try to use this space to answer the common questions that have been directed to us at the parish. At this point, a lot is unknown to us, but we will gladly share whatever information we have. (Note that a lot of what is circulating through Facebook and social media is unfounded rumor, and untrue. Information is being disseminated as it is received; any rumors that contain "big news" are untrue unless they are corroborated on this website.)
Let us try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
How extensive was the damage?
The full extent of the damage is not known yet, and likely will not be known for some time. The fire appears to have been caught in the roof area above the scaffolding. The most significant damage occurred around the tabernacle, where the roof is completely destroyed and the large support pillar near the ambo (the pulpit) is charred and burnt. The roof has holes in several places where the fire fighters had to cut through to put out the fire. Two of our stained glass windows are broken, as well as several clear glass windows at the top of the church. The roofs as well as the floors are pretty well damaged. But, most of the interior of the church appears to be in good shape. The pews seem relatively undamaged, as do the statues and the altar. Almost everything in the sacristy appears undamaged. Most miraculously of all, the new sanctuary lamp and the tabernacle are undamaged. For such a large and stubborn fire, we were very lucky to have so little damage.
What was the cause of the fire? (Updated 6/20)
We still do not know. It is currently under investigation. State and local fire marshals are collaborating with independent investigators to determine the cause. As of 6/20, no adequate cause has been able to be determined. The investigators continue to monitor the repair work, and hope to revisit the church during reconstruction in order to look at other parts of the building that are not currently accessible, but there is a growing possibility that the fire cause will eventually be listed as "Undetermined." We will release any more information about the cause of the fire if and when we learn something.
Was anyone hurt in the fire?
No one was hurt, praise God. We are very grateful for this mercy. No one was in the church at the time of the fire, and no fire fighter was hurt during the blaze.
How is Father Red?
Father Red, like all of us, is heartbroken on the loss of the church. However, in his typical French-Canadian style, he is dealing with the situation practically and efficiently. More than most, he understands that the loss of the building is a tragedy, but the work of God will continue in the parish. He is working diligently to continue with parish activities and to begin the repairs to the church.
Will St. Mary be rebuilt, or will the parish be permanently closed?
We have great hope and expectation that St. Mary Church will be rebuilt. Our insurance coverage is very good, and our insurance representative has been working with us on-site since the night of the fire. The structure of the church seems to be intact. Bishop Cote seems to be very supportive of our efforts to recover. At this point, before we even have a final analysis on the extent of damage or on the cause of the fire, it is premature to be talking about how the building will be rebuilt. However, everyone here at the parish believes that we will be able to rebuild soon.
Where will we celebrate Mass in the meantime?
St. Joseph parish (99 Jackson St.) has offered us the use of their church building to hold Mass. We have scheduled a vigil Mass on Saturday at 5:30 PM, and a morning Mass on Sunday at 11:30 AM. These will be our parish Masses for the immediate future. We will continue to celebrate Daily Mass in the St. Mary chapel (located in the Parish Center at 80 Maple Ave.) at 7:30 AM, Monday through Saturday.
If I go to another Mass at St. Joseph, what do I do with my envelope?
St. Mary parishioners may also attend the other Masses at St. Joseph (Saturday at 4:00 PM, Sunday at 7:30 AM and 10:00 AM). Any envelopes for St. Mary can be deposited in the collection basket, and St. Joseph will give them to us. Additionally, St. Joseph parishioners are invited to attend our Masses, and we will give their parishioners' envelopes to St. Joseph parish.
I heard on Facebook that...
There have been many flagrantly false rumors that have been propounded on Facebook. We cannot stop rumors from spreading, but we can ask you to check this website or call the parish office before passing on any such rumors. Everyone is concerned about our parish and its future, but most of these rumors are false and are causing more harm than the reality is. Please assist us by only communicating information found on this website or coming from parish staff; this will save people from unnecessary heartache and angst.
Can we hold a fundraiser for the Church? Are we accepting donations for rebuilding?
At this time it is too early to talk about fundraising or donations. People have been very generous in reaching out to us; but at this time, we are "putting the cart before the horse" if we are talking about fundraising. We are accepting unsolicited donations, but it is still premature for us to be collecting donations when we do not understand what our costs are going to be as part of the rebuilding effort.
How can I help?
Right now, we are asking for prayers for our parish community and Fr. Red. Prayer truly is the best assistance that we can receive, as God is so generous to those who beseech him for their needs. Pray unceasingly, therefore, that we will rebuild our church and that we will be stronger than ever.
Shortly, we will also be collecting information from parishioners and members of our community who wish to volunteer their services. There is likely a lot to be done in the recovery process; at this time, although everyone is eager to assist, we must have patience and wait for the recovery planning to begin. Please maintain your enthusiasm to help, and we will start contacting volunteers of all sorts when we are ready to rebuild.
How is the Church organ?
The fire appears to be have been located mostly near the tabernacle area of the church, and thus, not near the organ. The organ might be suffering more from water and/or smoke damage. We have been told that it looks good from the outside, but power has not been restored to the church yet, and so we have not been able to test it to see if it is still working. We are hopeful.
How are the statues?
The statue of St. Anne (near the baptismal font) is still in the church in an inaccessible area (blocked off for further investigation), but looks to be intact. The statue of the Blessed Mother (on the opposite side of the tabernacle) has been taken out of the church. There is some damage to the statue; the head of the Christ child was broken off. However, the statue was repaired by Mark and Carla, our decorators, and was used in the Corpus Christi procession on June 1st. The small statue of the Holy Spirit as a dove, sitting atop the statue of Mary, is still attached to the wall of the church at this time.