Mary Pierce and her husband, Don, 46-year members of St. Joseph Church in Sioux City, were reading about the close of St. John the Baptist Church of Quimby in The Catholic Globe when the telephone rang.
“We were talking about how sad it would be for those people, knowing it was going to be their last Mass, and then we get the call that our church is on fire,” she said. “We could not believe it.”
A friend had heard on a radio scanner that the Sioux City Fire Department was called to the church. Fire ignited in the roof mid-afternoon July 10 from work done by a gutter company.
At about 5 p.m., Pierce and her daughter drove over to the church. She was “horrified” to see the water flowing from the church and down the steps.
JoAnn Breyfogle, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s, pointed out that she heard of the fire at the church from her daughter-in-law who was working at Mary Elizabeth Daycare Center located about a block from the church. Someone had come into the daycare and told them the church was on fire.
“The news traveled fairly rapidly,” she said. “She (the daughter-in-law) took a picture and sent it around with her cell phone.” Breyfogle’s son from Kansas City called her within minutes.
When Breyfogle made it over to the church, smoke and flames were coming from the roof and the fire department was spraying it with water. She found the sight to be shocking – so unexpected.
“Water was running down the steps like a river,” she recalled.
She noted that all three of her sons were not only baptized there and received the other traditional sacraments, but also were married there. Even six of her grandchildren have been baptized there.
Breyfogle mentioned that all of the parishioners would really like for the church to be repaired because the parish community has such a family atmosphere.
“In our society today, I think it’s important to have that sense of unity,” she said.
Jerry Reinert said he received a call from a neighbor that the church was on fire. The neighbor could see it from her window.
“I got in the truck and came over,” he said. “If the police would have been out, I would have gotten a ticket.”
Since that time, he has been on hand at the church to help restoration workers and inspectors gain access to various portions of the attic.
A member of the parish since 1960, Reinert said he was hopeful that the church would be repaired.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if it doesn’t get rebuilt,” he said. “I’ve spent too many hours at the church to see it go to waste.”
Terry Loutsch, a lifelong parishioner of St. Joseph’s, said it was a former employee of his that called to say the church was on fire.
As he watched the fire, Loutsch said he was devastated. His mother was married in the church and his own daughters were baptized there and received their first Communions there.
“It was hard to see,” he said.
When he arrived at the church at about 4:30 p.m., he said he saw the flames coming from the roof.
“I really hope and we pray every day that they will be able to fix it up – that the diocese will be able to keep the church,” Loutsch said. “My biggest fear is that they have talked about merging St. Boniface and St. Joseph
While he has found the people of St. Boniface Church “to be very nice people,” he has high hopes that they will keep his church open.
For Father Michael Erpelding, pastor, the reaction of parishioners to the fire has “reinforced how these people see St. Joseph Church as their extended family.”
Parishioners have shared stories with him about being baptized there, receiving first Communion there, being married there.
“The place where they gather to worship is very, very important to them,” Father Erpelding said. “The symbols and signs of faith in that building are very important to them.”
Like many of the parishioners, ties to the church have been long-standing for the Pierces. Less than a week before the fire, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there.
“Our three kids went to St. Joseph School. We’ve worked all of the dinners and my husband has been a janitor there for three years,” noted Mary Pierce, who has been a housekeeper at the rectory and parish office for the last seven years. “It’s like a second home.”
Seeing that the interior of the church is mainly intact, she noted, instills great hope that the church will be rebuilt.
Kristie Arlt, diocesan director of communications, said the diocese is presently assessing all aspects of the situation regarding the future of the building. Catholic Globe