The Strange Case of The Two Catholic Church Fires

April 16, 2016

“Saturday’s child works hard for it’s living…”


   A Tale of Two Churches–Ill fated Churches I might add…   This is something that, to this day, I can’t figure out.  I know most people would simply dismiss it all as nothing but coincidence.  However, I don’t believe coincidences are what they seem, since I believe God controls everything within His creation.  So, He either causes good things to happen, or allows the ‘enemy of men’s souls’/satan to go ahead and cause things to take place in our lives that are awful, as He did with Job.  God always has the very best of reasons for allowing such things into our lives.  They are literally for our sake, even if we can’t see that at the time.

     He expects us to give Him the ‘benefit of the doubt’, and learn how vital it is that we continue trusting in Him and His judgment in every situation, good or bad ones.  Good things, I honestly believe, all come from Almighty God, so if it’s what people think of as a good “coincidence”, I believe we have Him to thank for it.  The terrible things, that are also termed as “coincidences”, are another matter altogether.  And, the two fires I am going to write about involving two Churches, are incidents that touched my own life, albeit at a distance.  I’m hoping you’ll be able to see what I mean once I explain.    Bob and I were married, in August of 1970, in the fairly new Catholic Church down the road from the Lutheran Church in which I was confirmed and baptized in May of 1968.  It’s name was “Most Precious Blood Catholic Church”.  It was the church that I gave two Nuns directions to, on one Fall day in 1967, when I suddenly found myself wanting desperately to shout to them as they drove away, “Take me with you!”.  I’m positive that it wasn’t due to the terrible situation at home that had developed due to my mom’s drinking.  I believe it had been because I suddenly, desperately wanted to be where people loved God and the Lord. 

     That was so very odd because I had just declared myself an “Atheist” only a short while before that, with me suddenly announcing that as ‘fact’ to the adorable little elderly lady who had come over to our house to convince me to accept the Lord Jesus, so that I could be ‘Born Again’.  I couldn’t understand what she was talking about, and I couldn’t dissuade her from her faith, since she told me that, when she saw me standing outside of my aunt and uncle’s Lutheran Church on the Sunday I had consented to attend Church with them, that the Lord had wanted her to come over and speak to me, so she did.  However, she couldn’t instill any faith in my heart at the time no matter how hard she tried, so I stood up and told her that I was now an “Atheist”!  She still had confidence that God would some day help me realize the truth, and then she left.  I then picked up the telephone to call my mother at work.  As I picked up the receiver to dial the number, I remember suddenly thinking, “Is God ever going to be upset when He hears that I’m an Atheist now!”, and I found myself ducking slightly as I said that!  So odd, so confusing to me!   Seeing those two Nuns that afternoon though just touched something deep within my soul, and I suddenly, and desperately wanted to be with them, to be with people who loved the Lord.  Yet, wasn’t I an “Atheist” now?!  So confusing!  A few days later my uncle Paul, who had been very concerned for me and wanted very badly for me to attend church, asked me again to please attend just one Lutheran catechism class on the upcoming Friday evening.  I told him I just couldn’t believe in God, because there were these 3 questions that I just knew no one could ever answer to my satisfaction.  So, it was for that reason that I told him there was no use in my ever going at all. 

     That’s when he struck up a bargain with me–if I attended just the one catechism class, and asked the Pastor those 3 questions and if he couldn’t answer them to my satisfaction, then I wouldn’t have to attend any more classes after that.  So, because I loved my uncle so much, I told him yes.  However, I never told anyone what those 3 impossible-to-answer questions were.  The Pastor was going to get them cold, and he would be on his own, [or so I thought!], in finding ways in which to answer them!   Needless to say, even though those 3 tougher-than-tough to answer questions seemed so earth shaking to me at the time, I can’t even remember what they were now!  However, Pastor Greenquist never even skipped a beat as he answered each question flawlessly, and so quickly I was completely STUNNED!  After he finished answering the last one, I actually stood up, and in front of the Pastor and all the other students, and said at least twice, “I believe!”  Because, suddenly, I DID believe!  So, I took all of the other catechism classes, and was baptized the day before I left for Basic Training in the WAC’s–Women’s Army Corps, in May of 1968.  I think far more fuss was made over my being baptized, and then going away to Ft. McClellan, Alabama the next morning, than when I graduated high school! 

     It was a sad/happy day for me, and being away from home was the same way–sad/happy–and stressful!  I always planned on returning home after the 3 years was finished, though.  I never counted on getting married to someone from such a remote part of the globe as New Jersey, then spending nearly a year living with him in Dodge City, Kansas, where he’d received a scholarship to play football for St. Mary of the Plains Catholic college only 4 months after we were married in “Most Precious Blood Catholic Church”.  In a way, those 10 months in Dodge City were a sad/happy time, too, due to the situation at home with my mom.  I think we must have made about 3 trips out to California during those 10 months, with one trip being an outright emergency, with my mom ending up in the hospital.

    That Catholic Church in which we were married on that gorgeous, sunny August afternoon, reminds me of the little church in the clip art picture before the beginning of this paragraph, only a bit more Spanish in it’s archetecture.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was in that Spanish style that is so common in California–quietly elegant, yet warm and friendly.  So, the day it burned to the ground I was completely shocked!  I had been there in Concord, California, staying with my sister, her husband, and my niece for awhile in late 1982 into early 1983.  As I watched the “Noon News” on tv, the day the fire occurred, I thought at first I hadn’t heard the report quite right.  My sister lived just up the road from the church, too, although too far for me to have hiked over there to see the fire. 


{I just noticed that, from looking at those two photo images of the outside of that Church, they rebuilt it alright, but wow, it’s now much taller, and larger, than it was when we were married in it!  I have a picture of it before the fire, and they even rebuilt it in a far more modern style than it was before, as well!  Now, I feel a bit sad about that!}

     This cold chill ran through me, at the idea it had burned down while I was there in town, as though maybe it had burned to the ground because of me[?!]…maybe God was really mad at me?!…and, the reason why He would have been mad at me, was…?!  I couldn’t put my finger on that one.  Could it have been because I’d failed to convert to Catholicism after 10 l o n g years of trying and failing?!  Or, was the opposite true?  That I was being dissuaded from converting?  If so, WHY?! Questions, questions…but, no answers!  So, I decided to try and stop thinking that the fire at that church had anything at all to do with me.  It was just a ‘coincidence’ that I was in town at the time, that was all.  That had to be all…   So, I did find out a short while ago that they had rebuilt the church, and in the pictures online it appeared to be just about as I remembered it from before the fire, but when compared to what it had looked like  in 1970, that really wasn’t so.  It now looks far more modern, and far less Spanish!  What surprised me no end, though, was the fact that they’d renamed it after they’d rebuilt it.  Instead of “Most Precious Blood”, it’s name is now “St. Francis of Assisi”.  I couldn’t believe it, because I love animals and St. Francis is the ‘patron saint’ of animals!  So, I sent them an email explaining how I’d been married there, and was actually in town the day it burned down, and how St. Francis was my favorite saint, etc.  I thought maybe I’d receive some kind of friendly email response back, but nope. 

Oh well…on to recounting the incident of the next ill-fated Catholic Church…

 Rolling forward from the time when the Church in Concord caught fire in early 1983, to 1988, and the second Catholic Church to catch fire.  Our second son was enrolled at St. Margaret’s Catholic school, while we stayed with Bob’s parents until housing became available on Ft. Dix, New Jersey, where Bob was then stationed.  That year was also when I decide to once again make an attempt at taking the RCIA classes.  Because of where Bob’s parents lived, their parish wasn’t St. Patrick’s church parish, which I loved.  Instead, it was at St. Margaret’s, where Bobby had been Christened in 1972.  Even though St. Margaret’s was a ‘modern’ style Catholic Church, instead of St. Patrick’s much, much older, more ornate, almost jewel-bedecked, ‘Old World’ style that I felt totally at home in and with, and liked very much, I was alright with having to attend St. Margaret’s, but hoped I could go ahead and attend St. Patrick’s once I had converted.   However, it all hinged on “If” I managed to complete the classes, and convert.  So far, my ‘batting average’ was nil on that score, and even as I called the catechism teachers for the RCIA classes in the St. Margaret’s parish, I could feel deep inside, the old rumblings of fear mixed with desperation, which always spelled catastrophe where staying in the classes was concerned, and that inner turmoil had always led to me ‘chickening out’ after just one class, or maybe two classes at the most! 

     It was either that way, or, as happened when we were stationed at Ft. Ritchie, Maryland, Bob suddenly came down on orders for Germany, so I had to cancel the RCIA classes, which the Ft. Ritchie Catholic Priest was going to conduct with just me as his only student.   Or, as with what happened when we were stationed at the Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany, I became ill, and was sent back to the states by the doctors [against my will!], so that ended those classes that the priest on the base was going to conduct with just me as his only student. *sigh*  It all began to seemed hopeless to me after awhile.    So, at the end of the 1980’s, I was about to give taking the RCIA classes another try.   I did my level best to try and convince myself that I could complete those classes if I ‘really wanted to’.  I was determined this time not to fail!  In fact, I think that was the only time I ever made it all the way to the second class before I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I had to bow out.  However, that second class was the one during which the teachers decided to take us over to St. Margaret’s, so that we could become familiar with things inside the church, such as it’s Altar.  We were allowed to walk up onto the Altar platform, where the priests conducted the Masses each and every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.  We were also shown where the “Host” was kept, and shown the back of the table on the Altar, etc.  It was very instructive.  As I was walking around up there, on the Altar, though, I remember having this surreal feeling.  I felt honored to be able to be there like that in such a holy place within the church.  Even though the old doubts about what Catholics believed, especially concerning the ‘body and blood’ of Christ, were still present with me, and still rumbled to life whenever I’d begin going to the RCIA classes, which made my converting seem totally out of reach.  I just couldn’t get rid of those awful doubts no matter how hard I tried.   It was shortly after our trip to St. Margaret’s, and our examination of its Altar, that two things occurred almost simultaneously: I called and told the teachers of those RCIA classes that I just couldn’t attend any longer, and apparently, almost in the same time frame, I heard the nearly unbelievable news that St. Margaret’s had caught fire, and had been severely damaged. I couldn’t quite believe it, when I heard about that, and again, I had chills over the idea of it catching fire so very close to when I’d been there with the RCIA class.  I kept trying to shake off this feeling of doom, because of both of those churches catching fire.  I know it’s often claimed that Catholic Church fires are usually caused by the candles that are kept lit near their alters, and certainly that does seem like a reasonable explanation.  However, I still couldn’t quite feel totally accepting of that explanation, since it had now occurred twice, in two separate Churches that I had been associated with in some way.     The St. Margaret’s school managed to escape having much, if any, damage, so our son could still attend classes there while they rebuilt the main body of the Church.  It took quite awhile before St. Margaret’s was in good enough condition so that they could again hold Masses there, though.  To this day, the ‘coincidence’ of having fires happen in both of those churches, still confounds me.  And, if it was a ‘sign’, or warning from God, because He didn’t want me to convert, it would take another 20 YEARS for it all to finally sink in, since I was that DENSE about, and I continued trying to stay in the RCIA classes, and failing. 

       I had this idea that, within Catholicism, I would finally find the love for Christ that I, too, felt for Him, and then I would be content in my heart and soul.  I actually first developed that idea in that Fall of 1967, but it didn’t exactly begin with my meeting those two Nuns looking for directions to that Catholic Church. It had begun shortly before that, in the oddest of circumstances, in spite of the fact that I had decided to be an “Atheist”.  It was while I was babysitting 4 little girls, and their baby brother, that an older friend of theirs, who had become my friend by then too, all sat in the living room to watch a movie.  It’s title was, “Miracle in the Rain”.  None of us had ever watched it before, so the entire story was brand new to us. 

      However, it was right at the end, when the soldier, who had been killed in WW II, suddenly appeared to his girlfriend on the steps of the Catholic Church, in the pouring rain, to let her know that he loved her, that I think we all sat up straight, and just as the scene ended, both my new girlfriend and I turned and looked at one another.  Suddenly, we both simultaneously blurted out,  “I want to be a Catholic!”  It was the strangest ‘coincidence’, especially since one of us had sworn off believing in God[that would be me], and the other one of us was a ‘fence-sitting’ agnostic[that would be her]!      Shortly after that is when I met those two Nuns as I had walked down the driveway of the house in which I babysat those sweet little girls and their infant brother.  Looking back on those two incidents, I am convinced that God was actually doing to me what He had done to the apostle Paul:

“And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”[Acts 9:5 AKJV]

     Some translations use the word, “goads” instead of the Old English word “pricks”, which are things that used to be used on donkeys to keep them moving forward while walking.  It does seem as though God was literally ‘goading’ me forward into believing in Him.  I very often am reminded to repeat this little prayer of thanksgiving, whenever I see someone who is far, far worse off, spiritually as well as physically, than I am:

“There but for the grace of God, go I!”[Amen]   …and,  Amen!   After all that’s gone on in my life up to this point, my falling into bitterness, and developing rage, and hostility towards God, could very well have been possible,  if not for His lovingly tugging at my poor, lost soul, back during the Fall of 1967.  ” May the good saints protect you,
And bless you today.
And may troubles ignore you,
Each step of the way. “[Irish Blessing]

 God bless you.

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