- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

Mass will be held today as scheduled for members of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Libertytown, Md., as parishioners cope with the aftermath of a fire this week that destroyed the sanctuary and rectory.

“The church was completely gutted. It’s actually all gone,” said Anthony Palerino, a member of the 134-year-old church since 1981. “There may be two stained-glass windows that are still there, but it is hard to tell because the church is too unstable to go into right now.”

“The only way to inspect it was through a crane bucket, where a machine operator would lower inspectors into the center of the church,” Mr. Palerino said.

The church’s steeple caught fire Thursday afternoon and fell through the roof. The state Fire Marshal’s Office said the fire was accidental, likely caused by roofing material being overheated during renovation work.

“The four walls have remained standing, but they are unsafe,” said Jim Conko, a member of the Knights of Columbus Council.

Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor gave “a very rough estimate” of $2 million in damage to the church and rectory.

“My wife and I were married there, and our son and two daughters were baptized there as well,” said Mr. Palerino, the outgoing parish council president. “What happened is heart wrenching.”

Hesaid a painting depicting the crucifixion of Christ that hung behind the altar was one of the few things the church was able to salvage.

“The fire took an hour to get under control, and firefighters stayed after several hours making sure it was extinguished,” Fire Marshal Taylor said.

Twenty-five fire companies and more than 100 firefighters responded from Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties.

“The guy from the 7-Eleven came down and offered sodas to the fire department, and it has been a wonderful sense of community,” said Mike Riley, newly elected president of the parish council.

Since the fire, the Frederick County community has rallied to help and church members are pleased by the support they have been shown.

“There have been countless offers of services from people in the community, and parishioners have been stopping by all day to see what they can do to help,” said Mr. Riley.

“There are plenty of people from the congregation willing to help out in any way possible,” Mr. Conko said.

“There are also other Knights of Columbus [groups] in the area that have offered their time and services in providing anything they can do to help offer their support.”

Church receptionist Lidia Herbert said, “Everyone is coming through to see what they can do for us, and it has been wonderful. We have a parish center, so we can still hold our Masses and won’t have to close down business.”

Today’s Mass will be held at 7:30, 9, 10:30 a.m. and noon at the Parish Center across the street from the burned church. Extra services were being considered.

“The church is just a building, but the real church is in the people,” Mr. Palerino said.

As for the future of the church, “We don’t have any answers as to what will happen with the church yet. At this time we are in a planning stage,” he said.

Plans for the church are on hold until the extent of the damage is determined.

“Until that time, we are moving forward, and as far as the spiritual life of the church, it will, too,” Mr. Riley said.

“We have one of the most loving parishes in the area and we will come together and rebuild.” Mr. Palerino said.

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