A day after St. Edward Church in Elmdale was damaged by fire July 18, brothers Bob and Jerry Theisen worked in the heat to board up windows and cover holes in case of rain. Throughout the day others stopped by to see if there was anything they could do to help.
“I’ve had people calling me all day offering their support and prayers, and that really helps,” said Father Jimmy Joseph, who was assigned pastor of St. Edward Parish just three weeks ago.
Father Joseph discovered the fire as he was locking the church doors for the evening, and firefighters were called to the scene about 5:30 p.m. The Upsala and Bowlus fire departments worked together to keep the fire from spreading through the building.
The majority of the damage is in the sacristy, which was completely destroyed by the fire, Father Joseph said. Part of the sanctuary was also damaged by the fire and the rest of the building sustained smoke and water damage.
Vestments, cassocks, a monstrance, chalices, ciboriums, the Book of the Gospels, sacramentary and lectionaries are just some of the items lost, Father Joseph added.
Though they had to smash the door of the tabernacle, firefighters were able to get the Blessed Sacrament out in time.
“I was sorry to learn of the fire that occurred in the sacristy of St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Elmdale on Tuesday,” said Bishop Patrick Neary. “Thankfully, the damage was limited to the church sacristy, although the church interior did experience smoke damage.”
“It just makes me feel sad,” said Bob Theisen, who has been in charge of maintenance at the church for the past five years. “The church is a place that you feel comfortable coming to with your problems and to talk to Jesus, but now that’s been taken away for this parish.”
Bob was getting ready for a finance council meeting at his parish, St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis, when he got the call that the building was on fire.
He rushed to the church, worrying that it might have been caused by something he forgot to turn off or that there had been a problem with the boiler. When he arrived and spoke with firefighters and with Father Joseph, it became clear to him that the fire had been intentionally set, he said.
There is evidence that a second fire was set near the main entry doors of the church, but didn’t take. A small pile of burned paper and a spot on the carpet can be seen in the entryway.
The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a suspect, but that is all that is known right now, Father Joseph said.
“Our prayers are with the pastor, Father Jimmy Joseph, and the parishioners of St. Edward’s,” Bishop Neary said. “On behalf of the Diocese of St. Cloud, I’m grateful to Father Jimmy Joseph and the first responders for managing this situation so well.”
“This shouldn’t happen in a small town like this,” said Father Joseph, who is pastor of the Catholic communities of St. Edward, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Mary, Upsala. “It shouldn’t happen, but we’ll get through it. The prayers and support from the parishioners and people around make us feel very peaceful even though the scene is still haunting us.”
Pictured above: Bob and Jerry Theisen board up a window near the rear door of the church July 19. (Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)