May 19, 2017

‘Mercy overcomes anger’ over intentional fire set at St. Barnabas Church

Cardboard, bags of trash and ladders are seen in the hallway where a fire was intentionally set on May 10 toward the back of the sanctuary of St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Cardboard, bags of trash and ladders are seen in the hallway where a fire was intentionally set on May 10 toward the back of the sanctuary of St. Barnabas Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

It was about 6:30 p.m. on May 10, and Greg Beckham, facilities director of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, had just left the parish campus when his phone rang.

It was the parish’s security company reporting several smoke alarms being triggered in the church.

“If it was one smoke detector, that might be a false alarm, but with multiple ones going off, there’s a problem,” says Beckham.

The security company dispatched the fire department to the scene.

“[The fire department] responded very quickly,” says Msgr. Anthony Volz, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish.

He says the fire, which was in a short hallway where the priest offices and restrooms are located near the back of the sanctuary, was extinguished within 10 minutes.

“If it had gotten to the roof, it could have been very disastrous,” Msgr. Volz adds.

The fire was set by youths, who also tried to break into the school.

“We had all of it on camera,” says Msgr. Volz. “We know who did it. They have talked to me, and I have talked to them.”

More official information about the juveniles was not available as The Criterion went to press.

While the damage was limited, it is still estimated to cost $40,000-$60,000 to restore, according to Michael Witka, archdiocesan risk manager and director of parish financial services and property insurance. He says restoration, while mostly finished, is expected to be completed within 30-60 days.

Because of the quick response of the fire department and because the ventilation system for the church sanctuary is separate from the affected hall, Beckham says there was little smoke damage to the sanctuary.

“We had to wipe off the pews, and the altar linens had to be cleaned, but that was it,” he says.

Msgr. Volz says the priests’ offices were “a little smoky, but they’re getting better every day.”

A restoration company cleaned the church on May 11 and 12. The church is fully operational, and the parish’s first Communion Mass scheduled on May 13 proceeded as planned.

Meg Horcher, parish director of finance and operations, was grateful the fire was contained to just the one hallway.

“One of the first things we said was, ‘Thank God this wasn’t [like] St. Monica,’ ”

she says, referring to a September 2015 fire in the narthex of St. Monica Church in Indianapolis that caused $1.5 million in damage and rendered the church and narthex unusable for 18 months.

St. Barnabas School principal Carrisa Maddox admits that at first she was “just heartsick” when she received the news.

“This is a very special place to all of us,” she says.

But Maddox says she was also “grateful that no one was hurt. Everything worked as it was supposed to work. Everybody responded as they were supposed to respond. I was very proud of our community and the protocols we had in place.”

Nevertheless, the incident was a blow to the parish community, says Msgr. Volz.

“St. Barnabas has been wounded,” he says. He admits that the news upset him.

“I started choking back some tears, and then saying some prayers,” he says of his initial response. “Of course, after having some time to pray about it and reflect on it, I was feeling more merciful. These young children made a terrible mistake.”

On Thursdays during the month of May, parishioners are invited to join in a rosary walk in the church courtyard.

“We had a big crowd” for the prayer event the day after the fire, says Msgr. Volz. “People were thankful as we prayed the rosary for the Blessed Mother’s protection, and Jesus, St. Barnabas and everyone watching over us.”

As the parish moves forward with the restoration process, Msgr. Volz says the attention has turned toward prayer.

“Everyone’s prayers are reaching out to these families and these young children,” he says. “A spirit of mercy always overcomes any anger.” †

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