MASSILLON, Ohio– Hundreds gathered outside St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Massillon August 4 as heavy black smoke poured from one of the building’s iconic twin spires.
For generations, the historic church, which has stood for nearly 140 years, had been the site of baptisms, weddings, Christian holiday celebrations, funerals and worship.
That day, people helplessly watched and waited for news, hoping the damage wasn’t catastrophic.
“If it got into the attic the church was gone. I mean that’s plain and simple. It would have burned the rafters; the whole thing would have collapsed,” said Rich Chapis, the business manager of the parish.
In the months since the fire, investigators determined the blaze was most likely an electrical fire but have never actually determined a cause.
And even though the temperatures inside the baptistry where the fire started may have reached as high as 1,300 degrees, a tin roof inside the room is believed to have kept it from spreading beyond that room and the church lobby.
Since then, the church leaders have worked with the diocese and with their insurance company to come up with a restoration plan.
Four months later, contractors have started the work, removing pews so they can put up eight stories of scaffolding inside the church to clean the ceiling and prime and paint the walls.
Experts will be meticulously recreating the woodwork and plaster work where it was damaged by fire.
The massive organ will be disassembled and cleaned.
Stained glass windows, which were imported from France, will have to be deconstructed and rebuilt.
Chris McCauley of Coon Restoration in Canton showed Fox 8 around inside the church on Monday, explaining the work that will be done.
**Watch the video with him above**
“The workmanship that they did 175 years ago, you know, we have to try to recreate that with our modern tools. It’s actually very difficult to do, what they did with just hand tools for the most part,” said McCauley.
“We know it’s very special to thousands of people, so it’s not like a normal house for a normal person. This is a house for a thousand people so every inch of this building has to be perfect,” added McCauley.
Since the fire, mass has been held at St. Paul Lutheran Church across the street.
Although it has been stressful for Fr. Ed Gretchko, the church said Sunday attendance has been extremely good.
His sister, Paula Gretchko, said seeing the restoration work begin is a welcome sight.
“Joy! It’s joy. The joy of waiting for when we are coming back. That’s what I am getting ready for the joy of seeing the church sparkle and seeing all the people come back,” said Gretchko.
The work could take as long as a year to complete.
“I don’t know what stopped the fire, if it was the tin roof, it it was the angels. I don’t know if that’s what God wanted, that this has to stay here because the people need it. I was scared, yes, but when it stopped, I was relieved. All we have got to do is clean everything up and rebuild and we will all be back; it will be the greatest day St. Mary’s ever had,” said Gretchko.