Fire devastating for small parish in Mount Holly, but churchgoers hope to rebuild

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(Host) Fire inspectors still don’t know what caused the blaze that destroyed St. Mary’s Church in Mount Holly the Sunday after Christmas.

Parishioners are grateful that no one was hurt and that foul play is not suspected.

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, they worry about the church’s future and whether their tiny community can stay together.

(Keck) For over 130 years, St. Mary’s was the picture of New England simplicity with white clapboard siding and clear arched windows. Diana Garrow started playing the pump organ there in the early 1970s, when she was 15. Now with the church a charred ruin, she carefully steps through piles of ash and twisted metal looking for anything that might be left.

(Garrow in debris) "Hey one of those blue vases is still there – ohhh . . . I thought it was all gone. . . well you’ll never know what you’ll find in the ashes here.

(Keck) Garrow is a member of the Mount Holly Volunteer Fire Department. She says the alarm for the blaze sounded just after five in the morning the Sunday before last.

(Garrow) "It was pretty hard when you come down the road there and you see the flames and it’s all a ball of fire and it’s completely gone. Everything we had – memories everything was gone."

(Keck) Parishoner Judy Nevin says 40 to 60 people came to the church every Sunday for mass. It’s a small community, she says, but incredibly close. Nevin says she’s devastated at the thought they might have to split up.

(Nevin) "Because some people who live close to Ludlow will choose to go to church in Ludlow. The people who live closer to Weston will go down to the Priory. And both places are lovely, but then our family is scattered and we want to stay together."

(Keck) Because of its small size, St. Mary’s shared their priest with St. Patrick’s Church in Wallingford. Last week, St. Patrick’s held a special mass for St. Mary’s parishioners. B.J. Stewart of Cuttingsville was one of many who went.

(Stewart)"I’ve been at St. Patrick’s before, several times, and it’s nice to go there and it’s nice to go there now. It’s like going on vacation. But it’s nice to come home to your own bed, sleep in your own bed. And this will be the place to come back and pray in our own home some day, hopefully."

(Keck) Stewart says his grandparents went to St. Mary’s in the late 1800s and he went as a boy with his parents. Standing in front of what used to be the front door, he pauses and shakes his head. Then he grabs a shovel and begins to clear away debris from the walkway.

(shoveling sounds)

(Keck) Insurance claims still need to be settled and Vermont Bishop Salvatore Matano has not yet said whether the church will be rebuilt. Still, Diana Garrow is optimistic about the church’s future.

(Garrow) "I think with our people here we can persevere. We got word a few years ago that we were going to be closed down. We are notorious letter writers. We really worked hard and kept our church going. As long as hopefully we have a priest in Wallingford and he’ll be coming our way – we’ll work hard to keep what we have going."

(Keck) Garrow says parish members have already been meeting to discuss their situation. Looking at what used to be her church, her eyes are teary, but she smiles and says who knows, this just might help the parish grow.

(Garrow) "All these people coming together for one goal, it would be wonderful!

(Keck) For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Mount Holly

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