St. John's holds fundraiser to help with fire repairs


It's taking time, faith and money - a lot of money - to restore the historic St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

Someone set fire to the downtown landmark two months ago. The congregation is holding a big fundraiser Saturday. On Friday we found a massive sanctuary full of worship and work.

It is a beautiful place. Beneath the soaring arched ceiling, the faithful to pray come every day. They are seeking to cleanse their souls while they are surrounded by massive scaffolding. They are meditating and praying while workers are laboring low and on high to cleanse their sanctuary of the soot and dirt from a fire someone set for reasons no one is entirely sure of.

Father Rich Nagel smiles.

"After you stop in your tracks, you say, 'I know Lord you allowed this for something good to come. Good things are coming,'" he said.

Things didn't look all that bad in February. A small fire, just inside the church's front doors.

Only later did parishioners realize how much the smoke damaged their ornate, art-filled church. Insurance will cover the $500,000 in damage, but since the scaffolding is up, church officials want to do additional repairs.

Instead of anger and prayers of retribution, "you pray for the person," said Paul Ayers quietly after Mass. "You hope for the best and hopefully you get together as a community and rebuild."

The half-million-dollar clean-up and restoration is only half done. There are thousands and thousands of square feet, some of them 60 feet in the air.

Every square inch has to be hand-scrubbed. Every day workers are using hundreds of small "smoke sponges," along with water and rags.

Painters are at work right behind the cleaning crews. Numerous valuable works of art have been removed to be restored. The cleaning and painting will making the 175-year-old church look even more dazzling than before the fire.

The thought brings another smile from Father Nagel. "It's a beautiful example. God will do good out of evil."

But the insurance won't cover all the good that needs to be done. Parishioners praise help they've received from outsiders.

"It lifts that darkness and makes you feel good to be a Hoosier," said Jim Davis, one of the worshipers attending mass.

The church parking lot is under a huge tent for Saturday's "fire fest." The fundraiser is a mix of music, food and entertainment. Along with raising much needed money, St. John's intends to honor public safety workers. Their work kept the fire from spreading.

On the corner of Capitol Ave. and Georgia Street, visitors will find a downtown church tested by fire, healed by faith, and helped by a community.

If you want to help raise money for additional repairs to the building, go to Saturday's 'Tested by Fire Fest' fundraiser. It runs from 2:00 until 10:00 pm in the church parking lot and on Georgia Street. There will be live music, food, drinks and games. All proceeds benefit restoration costs. Entry to the festival is free, but there will be opportunities to give toward restoration costs throughout the event.

More info on Saturday's festival@

St. John's website@