Saturday, October 10, 2009

Parishioners await fate of Sioux City church

Construction workers are making progress repairing the roof of fire-ravaged St. Joseph Church, but officials say the 117-year-old building's fate is still up in the air. The workers are putting a permanent roof on the building, but that's to protect the Catholic church's interior from the elements until a final plan is in place.

The stone structure was suddenly in jeopardy July 10 when a stray spark from restoration work set the building on fire.
Kristie Arlt, Diocese of Sioux City spokeswoman, said officials are seeking bids from contractors to see how much repairs would cost. After bids are received, likely in December, Bishop R. Walker Nickless will discuss options with church representatives.

"As of now, no decision has been made," Arlt said. "We're basically at a standstill waiting for the financial figures to come in before any decision can be made." The Rev. Mike Erpelding, pastor of St. Joseph, said he tells his parishioners to pray and be hopeful but says he doesn't have any answers about what will happen to their house of worship.

While they wait, many members of the congregation have been attending special Masses at St. Boniface Church in Sioux City. The West Fifth Street church will also host St. Joseph's annual turkey dinner in November, Erpelding said. Parishioner Jerry Reinert said St. Boniface has been welcoming but that most members of St. Joseph's congregation want to return to their own church. "We've been treated very well over (at St. Boniface)," said Reinert, of Sioux City. "It's just odd going to a different parish."

Although they accept being displaced, Erpelding said it isn't an easy transition for parishioners. "The St. Joseph parishioners see (the damaged building) as their home, and it's difficult for them to go someplace else," he said.

Despite the frightening sight of the church's roof caving in amid flames and billowing smoke the day of the blaze, Erpelding said much of the fire damage was limited to the roof and attic. The rest of the building was damaged by water from firefighters' hoses. "The miracle of the whole thing is, the roof that burned fell onto the attic, but the attic did not fall into the church," Erpelding said.

The altar and sanctuary were not damaged, including a mural Erpelding said many parishioners were asking about. The mural, a reproduction of Raphael's "La Disputa," has been in the Sioux City church for decades. The organ suffered only slight damage and, along with statues, has been placed in storage. Sioux City Journal

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