Parish Prepares to Pick Up the Pieces
A Time to Mourn
The altar is lowered to the ground by the crane that lifted it from the church, May 29. (Observer photo by Amanda Hudson)
Father Andrew Hougan, pastor, and a parishioner hug after Mass in the parish center. (Observer photo by Amanda Hudson)
A quote from Romans hangs in the parish center, once again serving as the church, of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Sandwich. (Observer photo by Amanda Hudson)
Rubble covers the inside of the church after the May 20 blaze.(Observer photo by Amanda Hudson)
Rubble covers the inside of the church after the May 20 blaze.(Observer photo by Amanda Hudson)
By Amanda Hudson, News editor
June 6, 2013

SANDWICH—“I say ‘Yes,’ my Lord, in all the good times, through all the bad times …”
“Digo ‘Si’ Senor/I Say ‘Yes’ My Lord” was sung on Pentecost Sunday at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Sandwich, one day before a May 20 fire claimed the back end of the church and destroyed the majority of its roof, which collapsed into the sanctuary.

The song was sung again for the feast of the Most Holy Trinity the weekend of May 25-26 at English-language Masses held in the parish center. Long a favorite of St. Paul’s pastor, Father Andrew Hougan, the song prompted additional tears and sniffles during the Mass as parishioners mourned their loss even as they looked toward the future.

Tom Hoffman arrived early for the 8 a.m. Mass. He wiped away a tear or two as he waited for the service to begin, saying he felt “very bad” about the fire.

“We sat here many times,” Hoffman said, remembering the 11 months of Masses in the center back when parishioners were happily anticipating the renovation of the pre-Civil War church building after it had been moved through the streets of Sandwich to rest next to the parish center on Arnold Street.

The first Mass in the old-made-new church was just a year and a half ago, in November 2011.

“It was a beautiful church, how they’d made it,” Hoffman said. “It’ll be that way again.”

Parishioners John Jarzombek and Patrick Sobol said they had come as soon as they heard about the fire.
“It’s just really sad,” Jarzombek said, “but you know, you have to be able to fix anything (and) Father Hougan is the guy to do that. We’re lucky. He’s an energetic guy, and we’ve got fighting people – we’re not going to just sit back and do nothing.”

After getting off work at 3 p.m. on May 20, Sobol was called by a friend who had seen fire engines near the church. “I saw the roof was in, and I knew it” was a big loss, he said. “But a church is a community, not a building. We’ll rise from this …”

At the Mass, Father Hougan expressed gratitude for many people, including the firefighters, the police, the mayor, Bishop Malloy for “dropping everything to be here,” and priests of the diocese who came or called or wrote letters of condolence and encouragement.

“I know there are greater losses,” Father Hougan said in his homily, noting the recent destruction in Oklahoma and elsewhere. “Nonetheless, this is a great loss.” He asked parishioners to be sure to thank parish staff members for all their extra work, saying, “They do more than you will ever know.”

Before Mass began, parish secretary Edwina Vincent said that the week had been “really hectic” with “a lot of calls (and) a lot of tears.” Her pastor, she said, was not only “very good in a crisis” but also “takes care of what needs to be taken care of.”

Vincent expressed gratitude also for Bishop Malloy’s presence, and said that “all the pastors in town” had called to offer them the use of their sanctuaries. “The main thing,” she said, “was the outpouring of love from everyone.” For so many St. Paul parishioners, she said, “this is the only home we have,” the place where many have received all their sacraments.

Father Hougan said that many of his parishioners’ families “have been here for generations,” and that much in the church had been donated by those families over the decades. Several items were removed from the church before the roof collapsed.

“I want you to know it was Denny Miller (chair of the parish pastoral council) who went into the church and carried out the tabernacle, so I want you to thank him as well,” Father Hougan said at the Mass.

Several parishioners had followed Miller and carried out a number of items from the church, forming lines and passing things from person to person before firefighters told them to leave the church, “and then even (the firefighters) passed things out,” Vincent said.

Her granddaughter, Carmela Key, age 6, had been very upset about the church’s damaged statues of Jesus and Mary, Vincent said, putting her arm around the girl. Key said she “felt really sad” about the fire and had seen it on Facebook.

In his homily, Father Hougan said that after the fire, “one little boy held up a charred Mass response-guide sheet and asked me, ‘Can I keep this, Father?’ The children wanted a keepsake …” In response to that need, he put together a memorial booklet for everyone on Trinity Sunday, the “First Sunday After the Fire,” that included his homily, certain Scripture readings from the week, letters and notes from priests from across the diocese and the words to the song he cherishes:

“I say ‘yes’ my Lord to ev’ry word you speak…”

Ongoing information about the fire and the recovery in process is available on Facebook for St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Sandwich, Ill.