Today’s blog is co-written by daughter and mother team, Angela Green and Janet McNeil Finch.
While visiting her hometown of Little Rock, AR, my mom would often bring me back to her childhood church, St. Edward, which was inhabited by German immigrants in the late 1800s.
Pause here—reminisce YOUR childhood church—the familiar statues, stained glass windows, the smells, the old wooden pews and especially the old…urrrr…elders of the church.
Each trip back to our car following Mass at St. Edward’s, we would pass the playground and school gym. During our walk, my mom would recount the story of when the church caught on fire:
Following a basketball game during a snowy January evening in 1964, the students walked outside to realize the church was on fire. Ironically, the fire department was located fifty-feet from the front door of the church; however, the fire burned at the altar, which was the opposite end and wasn’t discovered until they left the gym.
Janet McNeil Finch recalls, “As we watched in disbelief, the top spire of the altar crashed through the stained glass window (of St. Scholastica) nearest us.”
With time, the fire department controlled the blaze, keeping it from spreading and destroying the exterior. Unfortunately, the entire interior was smoke and water damaged, while the Gothic designed main altar and “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” side altar were destroyed.
The Gothic design of the church was dedicated in 1905 for the German immigrant parishioners. During the reconstruction, the three stained glass windows encompassing the altar were rebuilt in Germany. Every other piece of glass from the other windows had to be removed and restored.
The most interesting aspect of this story (besides the firemen walking to church to tend the fire) was that the son of the original woodcarver who fabricated the high altar was found in Italy with the original plans! Wood from The Black Forest of Germany was used originally and was again used to rebuild the altar.
As the Second Vatican Council was ending and bringing about changes in the church, it was timely that St. Edward Church was restored under those guidelines. This included moving the altar table forward from the original altar structure, as Mass would be celebrated facing the congregation. Although their beautiful church was burned, it was timely that it should be rebuilt during the season of Vatican II. As in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to break down and a time to rebuild.