In wake of church fire, St. Mary School feels community’s support

When students returned to St. Mary’s School in Melrose on Monday, March 14, they were abuzz with stories and questions about the fire that damaged St. Mary’s Church March 11.

“The kids have lots of questions,” said Robert Doyle, the school’s principal. “We can listen and hear their stories but we can’t answer many of their questions because we just don’t have the answers yet.”

Dave Olsen, an employee of Servicemaster, works to estimate the cost of the initial clean-up from the March 11 fire. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

One of the most pressing problems is how to feed them. Prior to the fire, the 129 students in grades K-6 walked across the street each day and ate lunch in the church’s basement, which is not accessible due to the ongoing investigation and possible damage.

This week, students will eat bag lunches in their classrooms. By next week, Doyle hopes a plan will be in place to bus the students to the public school for hot lunches.

“That’s the best option we have right now,” he said. “We are just taking things one day, one step at a time.”

Many kids are wondering about things like the kindergarten and sixth-grade promotion celebrations as well as where the second-graders will celebrate their first Communion. Though no plans have been set, Doyle said they will get through this.

“We’ve been through church renovations before and we’ve had to hold things in our school gym,” Doyle said. “The important thing is no one was injured. That’s what the students keep saying. And we remind them that, yes, the church was beautiful but really, we are the church and we will get through this together.”

When Benedictine Sister Janine Braun, principal of the neighboring Sacred Heart School in Freeport, heard about the fire, she extended an invitation to St. Mary’s School to attend Mass with them this week. However, Doyle said the ministry team at St. Mary’s decided it was important to celebrate Mass at St. Mary’s.

“We just need to do that for ourselves and for our community,” he said. “Somewhere, someplace we have to have a home.”

St. Mary’s School will celebrate Mass March 18 in the school gym and then will board buses to attend a prayer service and a special Lenten tradition at Sacred Heart — the Stations of the Cross portrayed in shadows by the sixth-grade students. Afterward, they will break up by grades and share a hot lunch together.

“We just wanted to, from Catholic school to Catholic school, be good neighbors,” said Sister Janine, “to show our support and help them out in any we can, to make it an easier week for them.”

Doyle has received an outpouring of prayers and offers of support from many other principals, families, individuals and the community.

“People have been overwhelmingly generous,” Doyle said. “We are so grateful to the whole community and beyond.”​

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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