Fire Devastates Harrisville’s Christ Our Hope Church

By Colleen Rowan HARRISVILLE—Christ Our Hope Church in Harrisville was devastated by an early morning fire Oct. 2. Parish officials said the sanctuary did not burn, but suffered extensive water damage, and that most of the building was destroyed. “I ask those in the community and the faithful throughout the state to join us in prayer for the Catholic community of Christ Our Hope Parish,” Bishop Mark E. Brennan said in a statement after hearing about the fire. That afternoon, the bishop visited the site and offered help from the diocese’s personnel. Responding to the fire were area volunteer fire departments. Georgette Healy, administrator of the church’s Facebook page, shared the news of the fire on the page Oct. 2. “I viewed the devastation today, and the sanctuary is more or less intact, but doubtful that it is salvageable,” she said in the post. “Some of the items may be cleaned up, such as the pews, chalices, crucifix, stations (one is slightly broken).” The rest of the building was destroyed, including the three-bedroom apartment, kitchen with appliances, large common room, tables, and chairs, said Healy, who is also music director at the church. In a message to members of Christ Our Hope, Healy said: “We have been inundated with sympathy, prayers, and good wishes…”  She also relayed that after discussing the situation with some parishioners, Father Shinto Mathew, administrator, announced that beginning Oct. 10, Christ Our Hope’s 11 a.m. Sunday Mass will be celebrated at St. Joseph Chapel in Pennsboro. “He asks us to put our hope in Christ,” Healy said in her message. The morning of the fire, Father Mathew, who is also administrator of St. Joseph’s and St. John Parish in St. Marys, received a phone call just after 3 a.m. from parishioner Joe Garrett who told him that Christ Our Hope Church was on fire. Father Mathew called a parishioner of St. John’s who traveled with him to Harrisville. They arrived at Christ Our Hope at approximately 3:45 a.m. “Once we were able to park and get close to the church, my first thought was the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament inside,” Father Mathew said. “I immediately asked Joe to find out if anyone could get into the sanctuary to get it. Joe was able to get a fireman to go into the church sanctuary to retrieve the entire tabernacle. Thanks be to God.” After the fire was extinguished, the scene in daylight hours later that morning was grim. “The damage was devastating and just unbelievable,” Father Mathew said. “Truly a very sad day.” The fire marshal informed him that he was able to get security footage from the Walgreen’s across the street which showed the minute-by-minute events of the fire. “The fire marshal said that by the footage it looks like it was an electrical fire which started in the roof above the area of the confessional,” Father Mathew said. “From there it consumed the sacristy and the social hall along with the kitchen.” An investigation of the cause of the fire is ongoing. There is also extensive damage to the church office and apartment area because of the roof collapsing, Father Mathew said. “The amazing thing was that the sanctuary seemed untouched by the fire,” he said. “The heat melted lights and the smoke blackened the walls and items on the altar, and the water damaged the pews and books in the pews, but other than that, the roof stood tall there and protected our beautiful crucifix, our statues of Mary and Joseph, and even our Stations of the Cross were not burned up. There was damage to some of the stations, but compared to the rest of the building, they were saved. “God is truly a great God,” Father Mathew continued. “He always has things in his hands. He prepares, where we do not see or understand. In September, St. Joseph Chapel in Pennsboro was prepared for visitors on a pilgrimage for the Year of St. Joseph. Father Mathew said parishioners worked hard to get the church in great shape and in working order, so it is ready to accommodate the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass. “When the chapel was closed in the 80s, some of the parishioners began to attend Christ Our Hope… Now those parishioners are in a sense coming back home,” Father Mathew said. “Members of Christ Our Hope are so thankful that they have this beautiful chapel that they can call home for the time being until the fate of Christ Our Hope Church is determined.” Father Mathew expressed his gratitude to all who have sent kind words and prayers to the Catholic community during this difficult time. “We truly see what family is when devastations hit,” he said. “So many have come together to help wherever and however they can.” Many of them have been at Christ Our Hope Church every day trying to save items that have been found. Father Mathew said one of the items found was a monstrance in one of closets. It was covered with a cloth, untouched by the fire. “This is a cherished item that was donated by the Hilvers family and will now be used again at St. Joseph Chapel,” Father Mathew said. Christ Our Hope Church was dedicated Nov. 1, 1980, to serve the Catholic community of Ritchie County. It is a mission church of St. John’s and is part of the cluster that includes St. John’s and St. Joseph Chapel. Diocesan officials said they will await the results of the investigation currently underway by the state fire marshal, who will determine the cause of the fire, before determining future plans for the church.

Courtesy Photo Christ Our Hope Church in Harrisville is left devastated by an Oct. 2 fire.

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