Churches near and far show support after St. Mary’s fire

Representatives from Holy Cross Parish in Butler traveled May 17 to Melrose to meet with Father Marvin Enneking, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Melrose.

After hearing about the fire that St. Mary’s experienced March 11, the Holy Cross parish community wanted to deliver messages of hope, compassion and solidarity, especially since they know what it’s like to lose their church home.

In 1999, Holy Cross, a parish of about 60 families, suffered a devastating fire after lightning struck the church. Bert Nelson, a longtime member of Holy Cross, remembers exactly how it felt.

“Even now when I think about it, it brings a pit into my stomach,” Nelson said. “It was like losing a loved one. It just leaves such a hole in your soul.”

So when he heard about the fire in Melrose, it left him feeling hollow.

“It feels like a sucker punch,” he said. “But then I remembered how the surrounding communities pitched in to help us so we could rebuild.”

Now, the Butler community wants to extend the same support they received in their time of need to the Melrose community. Two weekends in a row, Holy Cross took up second collections to help St. Mary’s with fire-related expenses. The check was delivered with the messages of hope.

The idea for the collection was first presented to the finance council by parishioner Myron Carlson.

Deacon Randy Altstadt, center, and Father Matthew Kuhn, right, delivered cards and donations from the parishes of Holy Cross in Butler and St. Henry in Perham to Father Marvin Enneking, left, pastor of St. Mary Church in Melrose during a lunch meeting May 27. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor
Deacon Randy Altstadt, center, and Father Matthew Kuhn, right, delivered cards and donations from the parishes of Holy Cross in Butler and St. Henry in Perham to Father Marvin Enneking, left, pastor of St. Mary Church in Melrose during a lunch meeting May 27. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

“As soon as it was mentioned, there was a unanimous ‘Yes, we’ve got to do this,’” said Father Matthew Kuhn, pastor of Holy Cross. “If we are going to talk about the communion of saints, we’ve got to live it. The Butler community was supported by other communities — St. Lawrence in Rush Lake and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Corliss and others. We needed to ‘pay it forward,’ as they say.”

Father Kuhn is also the pastor of St. Henry Parish in Perham. When the parishioners there heard about what the Butler parish was doing, they wanted to contribute as well.

Father Kuhn and Deacon Randy Altstadt, who serves both Holy Cross and St. Henry’s, also attended the meeting with Father Enneking, bringing along the monetary gift. A crucifix from St. Henry’s is also being restored so it can be gifted to St. Mary’s.

Though it was a very painful experience to lose their church in Butler, Michele Hofland, one of the parish trustees at Holy Cross, said there were blessings in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“The church is now handicapped accessible and is still the gathering place for our community,” she said.

Holy Cross parishioner Mary Peeters added, “The important thing about Butler is we don’t have a common meeting place besides the church. That was our encouragement to rebuild because that’s where we gathered. If we hadn’t rebuilt, we would be a fractured community.”

Hofland said the church is the “glue that holds the community together.”

“And not just the Catholic population,” she said. “It’s here for everyone to use.”

Father Enneking is grateful for the support of all those who have reached out in so many different ways.

“The Melrose area churches, which meet regularly, have been very supportive, too,” he said. “It’s just been a very generous spirit in people reaching out to support us.”

A family of faith

When Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Albany heard about the fire in Melrose, they, too, wanted to show their support. Pastor Steve Olson suggested hosting a benefit barbecue, to which their congregation enthusiastically accepted.

“It’s just what we are about in Minnesota,” Pastor Olson said. “When someone is hurting, we help each other.”

Pastor Olson said he has had friends who have gone through similar experiences in other communities, and he has seen how difficult it is to lose a church.

“When you have a church, its not just a building. Churches are so much more than just buildings, it’s family. It’s the place you worship, where you’ve had children baptized, celebrated weddings and funerals of loved ones. When something like this happens, we need to help each other,” he said.

The church is planning a barbecue June 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hamburgers, brats, beans, chips and ice cream are on the menu. The event will be outdoors, weather permitting, or inside if it rains.

Wendy Womak, who is part of the congregational life and mission committee that is organizing the event, said the congregation is “very involved and very much behind supporting St. Mary’s.”

“We are all a family in faith together,” she said. “When we live in close communities like this, everyone knows someone who is affected by a tragedy like this. When anyone has a problem, we need to help out.”

For more information about the barbecue, find Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on Facebook or call the church office at 320-845-2405.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the associate editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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