Local News

‘Our church may be gone, but our faith is strong’

By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND

Red Lake, Minn -- An early morning fire on Dec. 2 destroyed St. Mary’s Mission church in Red Lake. The school and a house on the property were not damaged. On Dec. 3, around 100 members of the community gathered in the school gymnasium for Mass to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.

“Here we are, beginning another season of Advent, and does not the season begin by reminding us that we are clay and that God is the potter?,” said Father Jerry Rogers, Pastor of St. Mary’s Mission, during the homily. “He has placed us in charge of building the kingdom here at Red Lake, but people, we’ve got to remember we are not the master. Whether this is our 20th, our 39th or our 90th Advent, God is not finished with us yet. We are still being formed in the potter’s hands, he wishes to shape us anew.”

He relayed the story of a first grader, who was very distressed by the news and asked if there would still be church. He reminded her that the church was only the building and that Jesus makes his home in each of us.

“We will rise up from the ashes,” he said.

At the conclusion of Mass, Father Rogers, while stating that a new church would be built, encouraged everyone to take these days to mourn.

“These are the days for mourning. We have lost an elder, someone who, for over 100 years, gave her wisdom – was the very home of wisdom – because wisdom for us as Catholics is Jesus Christ,” he said.

He concluded saying, “If I ever doubted what the church meant to people, I now know.”

The loss of the building, which was constructed in 1888, has left many in the community reeling.

“There’s so much history there. What really got me was all the people who have come and gone through there, my own family and the people that you’ve known, the funerals and the people that have come and gone,” said John Eklund. He is a parishioner and musician at the parish.

“I’m just in shock,” said Charmaine Branchaud. “I can’t believe our church is gone. I know that we can rebuild our church, but it’s like someone has died.” Branchaud has served as the parish nurse for St. Mary’s Mission since 2014 after retiring from a 21 year career with Indian Health Service.

“It’s the history, it’s all those memories that I feel such sorrow over,” she said. “The physical structure is gone and there have been so many people who have gone through those doors in the church.” Her parents, who are now deceased, attended school at the mission.

Because of her relationship to the parish, she has received many phone calls and messages from friends and family expressing disbelief and support to her.

“It effects the whole community,” Branchaud said. “There’s lots of people out there talking about how their families went to school here.”

She said she knows memories can’t be taken away, and that she’s taking comfort in knowing God works in mysterious ways.

“We’ll find a way to make a new church, build a new church. Our church may be gone, but our faith is strong,” Branchaud said.

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