Hoping for the best but prepared for the worst, St. Joseph Church parishioners rejoiced Friday afternoon when they learned their beloved 117-year-old building will stay open and be fully restored by next fall.
About 130 church members filed into St. Boniface Church, where many have attended Mass since a July 10 fire damaged St. Joseph, to hear from their priest, the Rev. Michael Erpelding, whether their home church would be shuttered or preserved.
The fire, started accidentally when a stray spark from a workman's torch ignited wood under the eaves, burned through the roof and damaged a wall.
"We waited so long and prayed so hard," Barbara Reinert, 71, of Sioux City said tearfully after the meeting. "It was the best Christmas present ever."
Erpelding and the Most Rev. R. Walker Nickless, bishop of the Sioux City Diocese, delivered the glad tidings to the anxious crowd at St. Boniface, then made an official announcement during a news conference at diocese headquarters.
Nickless called St. Joseph, at 1112 Eight St., a viable church with a significant impact in the community and said it needs to once again thrive.
Construction will begin in January and be completed in October. The diocese will use $3.1 million in insurance money from the fire to pay for the work. The amount includes money already spent to replace the roof.
Erpelding said he learned of the decision at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
"It was hard to wait," he said. "Waiting makes you think of all sorts of different things, but I'm very happy with the decision."
He said the church also received a donation of between $60,000 and $75,000 to start a fund to install a modern elevator.
"Words can hardly express," parishioner Zac Chwirka, 50, of Sioux City, said. "We've all talked about it, and to receive this kind of news is so uplifting."
Erpelding said it was gratifying to know how happy the congregation was.
"Everyone stood up and cheered, yelled and applauded," he said. "I didn't know they could make that much noise."
Sioux City Journal