Sandy Smolira peered through the open doors and windows at St. Mary Catholic Church in Lafferty on Friday, seeking a glimpse of the organ she once played for the congregation.
Instead, she saw the charred shell of a building with wisps of smoke still rising from the ashes.
But today and Sunday, Smolira and other parishioners have the chance to worship at the site once again. Mass has been scheduled for 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. Sunday in the parking lot overlooking the structure, located at 42881 Church St.
Photos by Jennifer Compston-Strough
A vase of flowers stands on the steps to St. Mary Catholic Church in Lafferty in the wake of a fire that destroyed the building on Wednesday, left as a tribute to the church’s impact on its congregation and the community.
Members of the Smolira family peek into the charred shell of the church, searching for the organ Sandy Smolira once played during Mass. The building, which has stood in Lafferty since 1919, was ruled a total loss.
A fire broke out at 1:35 p.m. Wednesday, rendering the church a total loss. Lafferty Fire Chief Larry Zalesny said the blaze remains under investigation by the Ohio State Fire Marshal's Office, after a representative visited the scene and talked with witnesses Thursday.
Yellow caution tape surrounds the building, keeping the public at bay. Zalesny said "several people" have visited the site, and at least one left a vase of flowers behind on the steps as a tribute.
Zalesny commended the fire departments that assisted in battling the blaze, noting Bethesda and Cumberland Trail supplied ladder trucks that gave firefighters access to the roof. He said their efforts were hampered by a poor water supply, as the fire hydrant closest to the church had low pressure.
- In the wake of a fire that destroyed the building, Mass has been scheduled for 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. Sunday in the parking lot
overlooking St. Mary Catholic Church, located at 42881 Church St.,
To compensate, at least 10 trucks operating as part of the Belmont County Tanker Task Force drew water from a creek along County Road 72 and hauled it to the scene.
"Belmont County has one of the best tanker task forces in the area," Zalesny said, adding he hopes a younger generation of firefighters will step in to keep the organization going.
He pointed out that two firefighters were overcome by heat and dehydration while battling the blaze, but said they were treated at the scene and were in "excellent condition" before they left.
Zalesny stressed the loss of the church is one that will impact the entire community.
As an example, he cited his assistant chief, Dustin Hudak, who was baptized and celebrated his First Communion at St. Mary. Zalesny said Hudak also had served as an altar boy and planned to one day be married there.
Smolira agreed that the loss will be felt by many. She said some of the estimated 135 families who regularly attended Mass at the 93-year-old church had been doing so for five generations.
Monsignor Kurt H. Kemo, acting as administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville in the absence of a bishop, issued a letter seeking prayers for the people of St. Mary Church in the wake of the fire.
"The loss of a church is like the loss of a loved one," he wrote. "Having suffered loss myself as all of us have, we understand that each person will grieve in his or her own way. However, as we feel the pain of loss and go through the grieving process we remember, as Catholics of Faith, that Christ is ever present for us and with us."
The diocese could not be reached for comment Friday regarding the future of the site or the congregation. However, spokeswoman Pat DeFrancis previously said the people of St. Mary are welcome to attend Mass at any church in the diocese.