Authorities rule out arson in Holy Name fire

Worshippers return to Holy Name 24 hours after fire
February 5, 2009 5:12:50 PM PST
An electrical problem could be to blame for the fire at Holy Name Cathedral. aFire officials have ruled out arson but still don't know the exact cause of Wednesday's fire.

At this point fire officials don't believe that the fire was caused by any of the renovations going on inside the church on Wednesday morning. They are focusing on de-icing equipment that was in the roof.

Masses were back on schedule on Thursday. Without pews or kneelers, it's back to the basement for the parishioners. Daily Mass is being held in the neighboring center, the same place services took place during last year's renovations.

"You hate to see all this after all this work that was done. Fortunately, no one got hurt. But at the same time, you do feel for the unintentional suffering that we're doing," said Fidel Barrera, Holy Name parishioner.

Holy Name was originally destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The cathedral was rebuilt three years later.

Parishioners say their church community is all about the people, rather than the building.

"It's all about the consecration of the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ," said Patrick Anderson, Holy Name parishioner.

"It doesn't matter where it is, we'll show up," said Edna Fay, Holy Name parishioner.

Although, many do hope to get back into the cathedral as soon as possible, including pastor Dan Mayall.

"We'll go back in as soon as we can, but not until we're safe," said Fr. Mayall.

But cleaning up the water damage comes first. The fire department is focusing on the electrical wiring of the cathedral's roof de-icing system. At a separate event on Thursday morning, the commissioner praised his firefighters for their swift action yesterday.

"Just want to thank the men and women of the Chicago Fire Department again for some feats of magic yesterday," said John Brooks, Chicago Fire commissioner.

As Mass resumed on Thursday, parishioners learned that Thursday was the feast of St. Agatha, the patron saint of those who survive fires.

"We need her help. Where was she yesterday?" said Fr. Mayall.

Father Dan Mayall is hopeful that the repair job from the fire will not take as long as last year's renovation. This weekend mass will take place in the parish center auditorium.

Parishioners return to Holy Name

Parishioners worshipped at Holy Name Cathedral Thursday morning for the first time since fire tore through that Chicago landmark.

Although the church is closed because of Wednesday's fire, worship continued Thursday morning. About 30 people traveled to Holy Name Cathedral to attended the first Mass since the fire.

Parishioners did not seem to mind much that they were not necessarily in the church itself, but in the parish center at a lower level. That is where the church held the early morning Mass as well as one at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., another one around the noon hour, and another one at 5 p.m.

A worker was the first to spot fire early Wednesday morning. The fire may have been burning for some time before it was noticed. It set off a sprinkler system that kept the flames from the cathedral's extensive wood paneling and ornate decorations.

Dozens of firefighters were on the scene. Tower ladders poured water onto the fire from outside. A group of firefighters inside had to go through an obstacle course that included narrow crawl spaces and a rickety catwalk to get water directly onto the flames inside.

Church officials have yet to be able to assess how long the clean-up will take and how long the repairs will take as a result of this fire.

Fire investigators, though, in the meantime are making some headway in trying to determine what caused this blaze. They say that they have ruled out arson as a cause of the fire, but now they are looking at the de-icing unit on the roof of the church as a possible cause of the fire.

As workers begin the arduous task of cleaning up the water-damaged sanctuary, many parishioners of Holy Name Cathedral, once again displaced by fate, came to pray.

"And I just thank God, I shouldn't thank God, but I just hope that it will be soon," said parishioner Luisita Del Rosario.

More than two dozen people attended the church's first Mass since Wednesday's fire. No one seemed to mind that it was held at the alternate location of the parish center and not in the cathedral.

"I think we're all lucky that the building is still hit, but nobody was hurt. That's the main thing. We'll see which way it goes," said Tom Daly, parishioner.

The fire comes as restoration and repair work on the building continues after engineers found structural weaknesses in the roof that caused a 10-pound piece of decorative wood to fall from the ceiling last February.

Holy Name's pastor, Father Daniel Mayall, said the cost to repairs and the extent of damage have yet to be determined.

"The physical recovery, we're relying on the diocese and construction people that we worked with before, and that's all underway right now," he said. "We got to figure out what we need to do to make sure the support systems are set, structural engineers looking at it right now, and then they have to determine what caused it."

Fire investigators were examining the electrical wiring of the cathedral's de-icing system. It's possible the system, which is on the roof, could have malfunctioned or overheated.

Some say the shuttering of what's considered to be the spiritual center for many of Chicago's Roman Catholics is the latest test of their faith.

"I'm terribly, terribly upset. We haven't even finished our restoration, you know? And here we are again" said parishioner Jean Valaitas.