SANDWICH – Bernadine Paris is home for the holidays.
Paris, a 25-year member of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church at 340 W. Arnold Road in Sandwich, was among the parishioners celebrating Mass inside the church last month for the first time since it was destroyed by a fire on May 20, 2013.
“I love the church. Everything looks brighter and new,” she said. “I get goosebumps every time I see it. Your church becomes your home away from home, and it feels like we’re finally home again.”
After the fire, parishioners attended Mass in the parish center while the church was rebuilt. On Nov. 22, Mass was celebrated for the first time in the rebuilt church.
“After the fire, the church has been rebuilt from the foundation up,” the Rev. Andrew Hougan, St. Paul’s pastor, said. “The church was extensively refurbished and repaired to come as close as possible to matching the way the church looked before it burned down. The majority of the cost of the church’s rebuild was covered by insurance.”
The church was originally built in 1858 as a Presbyterian church. Catholics bought the church in 1910.
On Oct. 13, 2009, the church was damaged when an adjacent house caught fire. The church was moved a year later from its original location on Eddy Street to its present site.
“There’s a lot of history in our church,” said Dennis Miller, the chairman of the parish council. “I was born and raised here and married here. As a young boy, my father helped dig the original church’s basement. …A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into the rebuild project, and the new church is definitely something the community should be proud of. You just can’t buy a church like ours on the market.”
When the fire broke out last year, Miller and his brother saved the church’s tabernacle and Stations of the Cross.
“We were in disbelief, and we saved as much as we could,” Miller said. “We salvaged as much as possible.”
However, some parishioners’ efforts to save the church’s objects caused even more damage. John Yoeckel, of Yoeckel Woodworking, spent three months repairing the reredos, decorative wooden paneling on the wall behind the altar.
“Trying to save it created extra damage,” Yoeckel said. “The fire, the water that put out the fire, and moving it so fast led to the reredos needing repairs. I knew it could be saved, but the amount of work that was needed was almost overwhelming.”
The church’s stained glass windows and religious statues were repaired by the same company that originally made them in the 1800s, Daprato Rigali Studios. The window depicting the Resurrection was destroyed and had to be completely replaced.
The confession screen is made from the original church doors, and the wooden octagon above the chandelier in the narthex, or entrance of the church, was originally the opening to the church’s bell tower.
The damage from the fire caused the church to lose the historic site status that had exempted it from code requirements like handicapped accessibility. In the rebuilding, renovations were made to comply with the Illinois Accessibility Code, including widening the doors to the sanctuary, adding a ramp to the sacristy, and putting a working elevator in an existing but non-functioning shaft.
“We did our best to match the original construction as closely as possible, but some improvements were made,” Tom Siebert, an architect with RuckPate Architecture, said. “The new building is better insulated and has tighter wall construction, which allows it to heat better.”
Hougan said that he was grateful for the help of the church’s rebuild committee, Marilyn Ellerby, the church’s business manager, and David DeCraene, a retired civil engineer and parishioner. Hougan said that without their hard work, and the prayers and encouragement of the parishioners, the rebuild would not have been possible.
Fred and Rosemary Wrede, who have attended church at St. Paul’s for the past 10 years, are just happy to be back in their church in time for the holidays, sitting in oak pews instead of metal folding chairs. Fred Wrede said that he was thankful there are people in the community who cared enough about the church to rebuild it.