Historic Massillon church damaged in fire will reopen for Christmas

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MASSILLON, Ohio - A year and a half after a heartbreaking fire heavily damaged St. Mary's    Church, the building is expected to be ready to reopen in time for Christmas.

The fire itself was contained to a baptistery inside the front doors of the church, but heavy smoke and soot covered the entire sanctuary of the historic 140-year-old structure.

The cause of the fire was never officially determined.

Soon afterward St. Paul Lutheran Church across the street offered St. Mary parishioners a place to worship while everything inside the church was rebuilt, replaced, or meticulously cleaned or re-painted from floor to ceiling.

"The entire building was covered with soot, it clung to the walls, the windows, ceilings, the floors ,the pews, the statuary - everything in here.  The altars were covered the books that were out and I could see then that everything had to be cleaned and then that you couldn't wash these walls," said St. Mary's Pastor, Fr. Ed Gretchko.

Contractors have spent most of the past year tending to every detail.

Floors were ground and polished, walls and pillars were cleaned, arches that were damaged or destroyed were re-built by hand, pews were cleaned, lighting replaced. Stained glass windows were sent to Cleveland, where they were taken apart and re-leaded.

" The organ has, I have learned, it has 1,046 pipes and one dummy, they were all taken out, shipped down to Columbus, they were full of soot they are back." said Paula Gretchko.

Chris McCauley has been the superintendent for the reconstruction, and has been careful to watch over every detail meticulously.

"It's a lot of pride in it, just making sure everything is right , I mean I don't want anything get done that I haven't seen or looked over or you know pushed under the rug because you know this building is 150 years old and it's going to be here for another 150, so that's what we are trying to do," said McCauley.

The result is a sanctuary that will be familiar to the families who have worshiped at St. Mary's for generations and at the same time will look brand new.

"I remember the old church so this time I said 'let's take the color from the glass' and that would be the blues and the golds that are all over the church and that's why as you look at the sanctuary you see the blue paint, that almost looks like a sky blue, it looks like what it looks like outside and the gold in the stencil brought down the gold in the glass," said Fr. Gretchko.

The plan is to have the church ready to celebrate mass again starting 5:00 p.m.on Christmas Eve.

"Its going to be a full packed mass, because everybody is going to want to see the church again and how everyone has missed it," said Marie Garton, who will be singing and performing for the first mass back and expects it to be emotional.

"We'll see, might be a few tears I think but it will be nice just to be here again and to see people and come back home."

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