Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 31, 2023 / 14:17 pm (CNA).
A large fire devastated St. Joseph Catholic Church, a historic parish in Salem, Oregon, early Thursday morning, leading pastor Father Jeff Meeuwsen to conclude that the sanctuary “is pretty much a loss.”
St. Joseph’s is one of the oldest parish communities in Oregon. It serves about 3,500 faithful and is a part of the Archdiocese of Portland, located about an hourlong drive from downtown Portland.
Debra Gill, a reporter for local news station Fox 12 Oregon, said in a Thursday morning broadcast that “really heavy flames on the roof” of the church wreaked havoc on the sanctuary structure.
ST. JOSEPH’S FIRE: Video from early this morning of the 4-alarm fire at St. Joseph’s in Salem. Salem and Marion County Fire responded to the call at 2:31 am, arriving to the building in flames: pic.twitter.com/ccd20NlroI
— Savannah Welch (@svnnh_wlch) August 31, 2023
Despite the extensive damage, no one was hurt, according to a Thursday morning parish statement.
“It is with great sorrow to announce that there [was] a fire at St. Joseph last night,” the parish said. “We are still gathering information. The fire continues inside the church but is contained to the church. A great blessing is that as far as we know no one was hurt. We will have more information soon, but we are asking for prayers at this time.”
“What I was told by the investigators is that the church building is pretty much a loss,” Meeuswen said on a Fox 12 Oregon broadcast Thursday morning.
“I’m very sad that we lost the church building, very sad,” Meeuswen said. “But the church also isn’t just a building, it’s a people. The people of St. Joseph will pull together.”
“It’s super sad,” he added. “But we’ll move on, and we’ll keep doing the mission of Jesus Christ to the best of our ability.”
In a social media statement, the Archdiocese of Portland said that Archbishop Alexander Sample was on the ground with the parish community on Thursday assessing the situation.
The archdiocese called for prayers for the parish community and said it stands “united as a Church in the face of this tragedy.”
From his personal X account, Sample announced he would be celebrating a Mass in the parish parking lot at noon on Thursday. He also asked for the faithful to pray a Memorare for the Salem Catholics who lost their parish home.
“I am in Salem this morning to be with the people of St. Joseph Parish,” Sample said. “Together, we will recover from last night’s destructive fire. Praise God no one was hurt. Thank you to all the first responders for their tireless efforts. God bless!”
According to the latest statements from the Salem Police Department, the cause of the fire is currently unknown.
Fox 12 Oregon reported that a bystander walking by called emergency services after noticing the fire around 2:30 a.m.
The fire was still burning two hours later at 4:30 a.m.
First responders feared it would spread to the surrounding buildings, such as the parish school, but they were able to contain the flames to the sanctuary itself.
Salem Fire responds to a structure fire at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Thursday, Aug. 31. pic.twitter.com/5u1omD3Sq7
— Abigail Dollins (@abigaildollins) August 31, 2023
Though the current structure was built in 1953, the parish community was founded in 1853 and the original church was built in 1864.
St. Joseph’s is one of eight parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland to offer the traditional Latin Mass.
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