Almost 62 years ago, Ralph Revermann was baptized at St. Mary Church in Melrose and has been a member ever since. For 22 of those years, he served on the city’s fire department and was the chief when he retired from the squad.
When he left work Friday, March 11, he saw smoke billowing from his beloved church and rushed to the scene.
“I stood in the parking lot not being able to do anything,” he said. “It was all I could do not to grab a hose. There was nothing we could do but watch and pray.”
At the same time, Crosier Brother Jose Velazquez was driving to St. John’s University in Collegeville to attend a dinner when he received a call from one of St. Mary’s parishioners.
“She was crying while she told me that the church was burning,” Brother Jose said. “I have worked with the Hispanic community there, so I felt the call to be with them in that difficult moment.”
When he arrived, he said he was met with a lot of “sad faces.”
“Some were crying,” he said. “My heart was broken. Then I saw Father Mitchell [Bechtold, parochial vicar at the parish] and gave him my support. He gave me a great example of faith and trust despite the situation.”
Brother Jose spent several hours there, offering comfort to onlookers and joining them in prayer.
“I was amazed at the support that people gave to each other,” he said. “It was a hard time, but they showed interest in each other’s feelings. Both the Anglo and Hispanic community were standing with each other and hoping for a new future as one body, a body that was suffering and a body that is part of the body of Christ.”
Sprigs of hope
Still sifting through the ashes and their emotions, Revermann and many parishioners have witnessed signs of hope, most noticeably, at the Masses held March 19 and 20 in Meire Grove, their temporary church home until decisions have been made and investigations have concluded.
One sign was the rescued collection baskets that ServiceMaster, the company aiding in the cleaning and salvaging of recovered items from the fire, cleaned and readied for use at the Palm Sunday Masses.
“They still smell a little like smoke,” said Revermann, who has been a long- time usher. “It’s just simple things like this that make a difference right now.”
The smell of the smoke is a difficult reminder as it wafts through the noses of the St. Mary’s parishioners but also a sign that they were still able to gather together as a community in the wake of their loss.
Ron and Marie Spoden, who were married at St. Mary’s 11 years ago, attended Mass in Meire Grove March 20 with their children, Diane and Tim.
“It’s been very difficult,” Ron Spoden said, “because we were married there, both our children were baptized there and our oldest received her first Communion there. I’m glad we have this parish to attend Mass with our priests but it has been really hard.”
Both Spodens agree that it’s still early in the grieving process, but Marie said she is encouraged by the amount of support the community has offered.
“I think everybody is realizing how the community is important,” she said, “that yes, the church is important, but the people are the community, the people are the church wherever we come together.”
Challenges of Holy Week
As evidenced in their mission statement, people from all the cluster parishes — which includes the churches in Melrose, Meire Grove, Greenwald and Spring Hill — know that the church is more than a building.
“We are a community of people learning together how to love and honor God in our lives,” reads the four-parish cluster’s mission statement. “We are not a building or a name, but churches with rich histories united by our love for Jesus Christ. As his followers, we gather to praise and honor him. We are ‘One In Faith’.”
“The first weekend was difficult,” said Dawn Carrillo, director of faith formation and liturgy for St. Mary’s.
“People were still rattled from the fire. I’m sensing a different spirit this week. People are looking around at each other, seeing other St. Mary’s people, and realizing that, yes, this is still our community.”
Father Bechtold, parochial vicar for the parish cluster, took the opportunity to connect the fire with Good Friday during his homily in Meire Grove March 20.
“Easter Sunday is Easter Sunday and Good Friday is also Good Friday. The joy of the resurrection really is joyful but we go through Good Friday to get there,” he said.
“I think that is something we are experiencing in a particular way in the St. Mary’s community. We hold out this immense hope for a resurrection, for a renewal … that’s our Easter Sunday. Right now, it’s Good Friday.”
Additional services were added to the Holy Week/triduum schedule in the cluster to accommodate the St. Mary’s parishioners. The other parishes have been very welcoming and easy to work with, despite the heavy schedule, Carrillo said.
She said other items were rescued from St. Mary’s that will be used during the Holy Week liturgies, including the stand that holds the Easter candle and the vessels from the ambry that hold the holy oils, which will be received at the Holy Thursday liturgy and used at the Easter Vigil. The Easter candle itself was in the parish office during the fire so it also will be used at the liturgies.
Only authorized personnel have walked through the church to get a firsthand look at the magnitude of the loss. Once the insurance company has processed the information from investigators, a survey and estimate of the damage will be reported. No cause for the fire has yet been determined.
While it’s still too early for any official announcements regarding future plans for St. Mary’s, a letter from ServiceMaster was read at the weekend liturgies, calling for preliminary bids on restoring the church to its pre-loss condition. These estimates will aid in decisions regarding the future of the church building.
For more information, updates and a complete Mass schedule visit www.oneinfaith.org and click on “important news.”