Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coming together: St. Charles community finds comfort at church

Sunday is the day Sandra Zuniga usually gets her husband’s lunch and clothes ready for the start of the work week.

That routine is gone.
More than 300 people attended Mass Sunday morning at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in St. Charles, Minn. The Rev. Jim Callahan spoke about how the community came together after Friday’s fire at North Star Foods. (Fred Schulze/Winona Daily News)

Her husband, Jos�, was working Friday at North Star Foods when fire erupted throughout the meat processing plant.

“He was one of the last ones to leave,” Zuniga said.

But the fire didn’t stop the 32-year-old from the weekly ritual of attending Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church with her mother Margarita Zuniga, 65.

“This gives you more faith,” Sandra Zuniga said.

And faith is something both women say people will need in the aftermath of the fire. Margarita’s husband has worked at North Star for 13 years.

“We just have to try to support each other,” Sandra Zuniga said.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church has become a home away from home for the community when tragedy strikes. The church moved from downtown St. Charles to its bigger location just outside of town in May 2007.

People have taken shelter there after the August 2007 floods, a Sept. 15, 2007, apartment fire and when St. Charles was evacuated after Friday’s fire.

“We wanted to build this to help the community,” usher Steve Littlefield said. “We didn’t know we’d help it as much as we are.”

Sunday’s service was full of songs and Scripture. Then the Rev. Bill Cronin addressed the elephant in the room. He acknowledged the community’s fear but spoke of St. Charles’ history of coming together during difficult times.

“There was a feeling of peace. It was a definite example of the goodness of Catholic faith reaching out to other people,” Cronin said.

Bishop Bernard Harrington helped buy groceries for those taking shelter at the church. The Rev. Jim Callahan did laundry for people stranded from home.

“It was a real opportunity of grace,” Callahan said.

Questions linger as people wonder what will happen to St. Charles’ second largest employer and the many people who worked there. Callahan says the church is looking at ways to help.

“One of the most important things is that God is with them in pain and suffering,” Callahan said. “He accompanies us through it.” Winona Daily News


The Ironic Catholic said...

This situation is really a substantial tragedy for St Charles--the town is small enough that a sudden loss of 250 jobs has massive impact, on those who lost jobs and the economy of the entire small town.

Unknown said...


Yes, St. Charles is a beautiful small town. One of my nephews lived there for a time a few years ago. I would be a wonderful place to raise a family.

The loss of all those jobs will be devastating.

Even if they rebuild it will take a couple of years they say and probably modern equipment will require fewer employees than they had before the fire. And few of the unemployed will be able to snag those construction jobs. They'll have to commute to Winona or the Twin Cities, or move.

The Ironic Catholic said...

Yeah, well, there are precious few jobs in Winona too--and I assume Rochester (next closest concentration of jobs)....

I hear the diocese is trying to determine how best to help.