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Hubbard church rises from the ashes

The Rev. Michael Swierz kneels in front of the cross that was saved from the fire at St. Patrick Church in Hubbard on Monday evening. The cross was brought into the St. Patrick Parish Center for Saturday’s Mass so parishioners could see it before it is shipped away to be restored. Staff photo / R. Michael Semple

HUBBARD — For the more than 130 parishioners who attended Saturday afternoon’s Mass at St. Patrick Parish recreation and community center, the service emphasized that their church is more than the brick structure that caught fire on Monday.

The church is in the hearts of those who accept Jesus Christ as the son of God and practice the Catholic faith whenever they come together to worship him.

Multi-generational families with grandparents, parents and grandchildren sat in rows waiting to hear the sermon. Husbands and wives who have only been part of the community for a few years, but have become a part of this church community, greeted new friends and vowed to be part of the church’s restoration.

The Rev. Michael Swierz described the community’s response to the fire as overwhelming and generous.

“The outpouring of support we have received from the whole community — residents from Mahoning and Shenango valleys as well as from people who moved from this area — has been very generous,” Swierz said. “People have prayed for this church, offered help and financial support.”

Swierz described St. Patrick Parish as an active congregation with more than 1,800 families.

During Saturday’s vigil Mass, the large cross that sat in front of the fire damaged church altar was brought into the recreation center so it could be seen by parishioners before it is shipped away to be restored.

The level of restoration of the church has not yet been determined, but damage is estimated at more than $1 million. The amount available from insurance claims and gifts from the community has not been determined, Swierz said.

Campbell residents Kayla and Ernest Willis, who have been members of the church for four years, were shocked when they heard news of the fire.

The couple were married at St. Patrick at the recommendation of Kayla’s mother, who also was married there.

“We were members of St. Elizabeth Church in Campbell, before it closed,” Kayla said. “I’m hoping we can come together as a community. If we come together, we can rebuild. Anything can be rebuilt with God. I do not want to lose another church.”

Kayla, like many in the congregation, expressed their gratitude to all of the the firefighters and other members of the safety community who worked to protect the church.

Tom and Mary Joy Stremlau, who have been married for eight years, are active members of the church. Mary Joy has been a member of the church for 20 years.

“This church is very special,” Mary Joy said. “It is very active in the community with its food pantry, providing assistance to those in need and providing expansive Christmas and Easter programs.”

She expressed confidence the church will be restored.

In the meantime, its membership will continue to meet, study, pray and provide to those in need, she said.

Hubbard resident Kim Vargo said the church is an important part of her community.

“This churh keeps you grounded,” Vargo said. “When everything seems to be out control in the world, it keeps you close together.”

Vargo said she was devastated when she heard the church was on fire.

“At the time, it was like my home was being burned,” she said. “I’m optimistic we are going to be back together quickly. People pitched in immediately.”

Patricia Antos, a longtime member of the church, has been an important community for she and her family since she was a young child.

“We come for our spiritual leadership,” Antos said. “I was raised here and went to school here. I brought up my children in this church.”

She was very sad when she learned about fire.

“I came here the night of the fire to help clean up the church,” she said. “There were a lot of people here standing around ready to help. There were a lot of caring people.”

“I believe we are going to be a closer community after this,” she said. “This is my church family. Everyone is just so giving and caring of one another.”

Swierz said even in the worst of times, the membership believes God always will walk with his people.

“From the ashes of this, we will rise again,” he said. “God will be there for us. We will continue to be fed from the word of God.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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