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St. Patrick congregation keeps light going

Hubbard church marks one year since major fire

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Joseph Verostko, left, and Cheryl Beil, both members of St. Patrick Catholic Church, and both from Hubbard, join many others in a gathering outside the church on the one-year anniversary of the church fire.

HUBBARD — Hundreds gathered in the cold in front of St. Patrick Parish on Tuesday evening to mark one year since the church caught fire.

Work will continue through this year to reconstruct a section of the church that suffered excessive fire and smoke damage on Jan. 18, 2021. The Rev. Michael Swierz, pastor of the church, said the $10 million project is expected to be completed by early 2023.

Members of the congregation and community gathered in front of the church for prayers and thanksgiving for all who have helped during the last year. A procession of people holding candles went from the outside to inside the parish center for a special Mass.

“Everyone realizes what the church really is. It is the people caring for and loving one another and sharing their faith,” Swierz said.

He said he remembers a year ago standing in the parking lot with many others watching heavy smoke and fire coming out of the church.

“None of us then knew the extent of the damage of what was happening. Yet we as faithful people of St. Patrick’s stood there, and we watched and cried as we were there with one another. With the prayers of the bishop and our whole diocese, we went forward. The fire affected all of our lives. The faith of St Patrick’s Parish is more than just a building. It is founded on Jesus Christ,” Swierz said.

He said the congregation gathers to remember “the special journey” the church has made.

“That journey continues as we continue living our faith and ministering the word of God in this parish community and also in our public community,” Swierz said.

Prayers and thanks were given for the firefighters and police officers who helped that night and afterwards and the many who helped minister to the congregation in their time of need.

“We know that our future is full of hope,” Swierz said.

The people sang “Be Not Afraid” as they walked from the front of the church to a side door of the parish center.

Sister Bernadine Janci said while the fire did cause damage to the church, it led to the unifying of the people.

“This is a very unifying event. The people have been through so much and have come together in unity supporting one another,” Janci said.

Claire Vernell and her daughter, Barbara Vernell, both of Hubbard, were among those in the procession.

“We have always gone to St Patrick Parish, so the fire was very hard on everyone,” Claire Vernell said.

Doris Walker of Hubbard said she looks forward to the day the congregation will be able to worship inside the church again.

Eagle Joint fire District Chief Ron Stanish said the State Fire Marshal’s office, and the insurance company ruled the cause of the fire as undetermined due to the excessive amount of damage. Stanish said the blaze started on the lower level of the church below the altar. No one was injured in the fire.

During the Mass, a procession was held inside of items saved from the fire including a Pascal candle, a chalice, crucifix, music books and other special books used for liturgies, a lamb and a magi from the Nativity set, a cross from above the altar, and the monstrance.

“All of these little things mean a lot to us. As we carry them in, it reminds us our lives continue and our lives are filled with hope,” Swierz said.

Swierz said the past year brought uncertainty of what would happen to the parish community and the church and what to do to celebrate Mass.

For those unable to go outside, the processional and prayers were taped and played on a screen inside the parish center.

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