Accidents & Incidents, Churches, Historic Structures

The Fire and Rebirth of St. Mary’s Catholic Church

In April of 1918, Peter Sheid, a popular blacksmith who once lived in McHenry and Crystal Lake, passed away. On April 11, his funeral service was held at St. Mary’s Church. While helping prepare the grave, N.J. Justen noticed smoke pouring from the roof of the Church. He sped over and alerted Rev. Edward Berthold, who was running the funeral service. Rev. Berthold calmly led Sheid’s friends and family out to safety. The fire department was called, however, when they arrived the fire fighters had a hard time getting enough pressure to their hoses to reach the roof of the church. By the time the needed pressure was acquired, the roof was completely lost. Attention was then turned to the Church’s school and rectory to make sure that the fire didn’t spread those two buildings.  While this was going on, parishioners and fire fighters risked their lives to retrieve church property and save it from the blaze. Most of the important church property was saved, including most of the items from the altar and costly statues. 

Interior Picture of St. Mary’s Church Before The Fire. Note The Pillars In The Middle Of The Floor, Those Would Be Removed With The New Construction. Coutresy of the Pictorial Newsletter.

Mainly due to the damage, the exact cause of the fire wasn’t able to be determined, but a faulty chimney was soon singled out as the likely culprit. The month prior, March 1918, St. Mary’s had paid off its mortgage and had a good fire insurance policy, which the church would use to help rebuild. The fire had destroyed the roof, but the walls were still deemed sound and it was determined that the church could be rebuilt at the old site. While all of that was good news, there was a lot of expensive damage that needed replacing such as the pipe organ, some furniture, expensive paintings and most importantly the ceiling fixtures.

Picture of St. Mary’s Church fire, front of Church on right hand side. Note the furniture out on the lawn. Compliments of the Pictorial Newsletter.

It was determined from the Rockford Diocese in August that the church would be rebuilt, with some alterations, including a larger gallery. A church building committee was established, it included: S.H. Fruend, N.J. Justen, Ben Stilling, Simon Stoffel, and John Schranth. The committee would be in charge of making sure the construction would take place and be funded. Despite the insurance policy, the Church needed some fundraising events and donations from parishioners, especially for supplies which generally needed cash upfront. By the early fall, construction started moving forward with the strengthening of the church walls and laying of the basement.  In November, masons were putting the new large stone chimney in place and the basement was receiving its final touches. With cooperative weather, work carried on uninterrupted into the new year. By mid-January 1919, the windows were in place, the roof was having its red tiles installed and carpenters were working hard to finish up the interior. Starting New Year’s Day, the Church was even providing services for its parishioners in the new basement. Artists, Paul Klos & Son from Milwaukee, were coming in and putting the decorative touches to the interior in March. By mid-summer 1919, the construction was complete and a new and improved St. Mary’s was ready to serve its flock. 

Picture of the alter in the front of St. Mary’s Church, take before the fire. Note the pipe organ in the back, which was lost during the fire. Courtesy of the Pictorial Newsletter.

On July 19 & 20, 1919 the St. Mary’s Church held a large picnic, which they hadn’t done in years. It was seen by some as a display of vigor after the new church had been built. On Labor Day, the centerpiece of the new church, a 2050 lb. bell, crafted in Baltimore, was put into place. The bell had been purchased with funds, raised in part, by some girls from the parish that held fundraising ice cream socials. Known as the “Victory Bell”, it was a tribute to the county’s fallen soldiers from WWI, which had recently been fought. The Church hoped to have their dedication the same day as the bell ceremony, but due to a Catholic convention, the Rt. Rev. Bishop PJ Muldoon, wouldn’t be able to attend the St. Mary event. St. Mary’s Church, as well as the Victory Bell, were officially dedicated on Sept 16, 2019. Bishop Muldoon and several Church officials were in attendance. The church was adorned with several flower and flag displays.

Sources

“Church to be Rebuilt.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 29 Aug 1918, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“Items of Local Interest.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 10 Apr 1919, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“Progress at St. Mary’s.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 14 Nov 1914, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“Decorating Finished.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 22 May 1919, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“St. Mary’s Commencement.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 19 Jun 1918, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“St. Mary’s Dedication.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 7 Aug 1919, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“Will Hold Big Picnic.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 17 Jul 1919, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“Decorators At St. Mary’s.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 13 Mar 1919, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Sep 2019.

“Church Insured At $15,000.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 18 Apr 1918, 1, 8. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2019.

“St. Mary’s Church Burns.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 11 Apr 1918, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2019.