April 14, 2014

Parishioners in Beaverlodge, 43 km west of Grande Prairie, have been attending Mass in St. Mary's Catholic School since a Jan. 2 fire seriously damaged their church.

"We have not missed any services. We were able to get into the school after the fire," said Father Arul Jothi Arockiasamy, pastor of St. Mary's Parish.

"The following Sunday, we had Mass in the school gym. We are looking towards good things happening with the reconstruction," he said.

This year, even without catechumens, candidates and a church, the parish is still aiming to make the Easter Triduum celebration a joyous one, said Bernadine McPherson, parish council chairperson.

"We are going to work as closely with the school as we can to make it as rich a celebration as possible. They've been so cooperative in making their facility available," McPherson said.

"The ecumenical community has also offered their facilities for our celebrations that require a more church-like venue," she said.

Hardest hit with fire and smoke damage was the sanctuary upstairs, including the pews, altar, carpet, side walls and ceiling, Arockiasamy said in an interview.

Firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames, but not without extensive smoke and water damage in the basement. All of the contents down there had to be removed.

The fire started around the altar, but the exact cause is unknown and still under investigation. No one was in the church when the fire started, and there were no injuries.

"The fire caused a lot of damage to the church. The structure remained all right, and we were able to salvage the roof," the pastor said.

Arockiasamy said he hopes repairs will begin this month.

The parish, located in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, seeks to be a loving, friendly community that worships God and serves others, he said.

McPherson said church attendance has been down slightly since the fire, perhaps because the school gymnasium does not feel too "church-like."

"Overall, we've been well supported in the community, and it's been incredible. That being said, do people miss the ambience of the church? Yes, absolutely. It's missed for sure."