Holy Name Back to Business

Investigators determing cause of fire

Plastic and metal chairs replaced pews. Concrete floors replaced kneelers.

But faith was not replaced Thursday as dozens of parishioners attended morning Mass at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, a day after the landmark church was devastated by fire and water damage.
The mass, held in a basement on Holy Name's downtown campus, comes a day after a fire in the building's attic caused damage to the 134-year-old iconic structure.

"It's just a building, the church is made of people. We'll be OK," said Carla Kupe-Arion, 28, who has been coming to the cathedral since 2005. "I was saddened, but in the same breath, I praised God that not more damage has happened."

Meanwhile, officials investigating the fire said Thursday an electrical malfunction could be to blame.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Will Knight said investigators have ruled out arson, but still don't know the exact origin or cause of the fire. Investigators were focusing on a roof deicing system that keeps ice from building up on the edge of the church's roof.
The blaze severely damaged the church's attic, left gaping holes in the roof and caused water damage throughout the sanctuary.

Firefighters battled the fire in frigid temperatures at the Gothic revival-style church for more than two hours Wednesday. The flames severely damaged the attic and left gaping holes in the roof and water damage throughout the sanctuary.

Church officials said it was too early to estimate the full extent of the damage, but Archdiocese Chancellor Jimmy Lago said he expected the cathedral to be closed for months. Masses will go on as scheduled, but will be moved to the nearby parish auditorium and the parish center.

"Chicago has always bounced back from fires," said Cardinal Francis George, after surveying damage inside the 134-year-oldcathedral just blocks from the John Hancock Center in a busy shopping district.

The original Holy Name was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the parish rebuilt. The new cathedral opened in 1875.

There was no smoke or fire damage in the sanctuary, fire department spokesman Larry Langford said. Fire officials and Chicago police were conducting investigations of the cause.

Holy Name's pastor, the Rev. Daniel Mayall, said the fire set off the sprinkler system, which kept the flames from the cathedral's extensive wood paneling and ornate decorations.

But the water damage to the building's interior was "humongous" and crews had to pump water out of the basement, said Lago. He said sacramental records of marriages and baptisms were kept in a fireproof vault and were believed to be safe.

While no injuries were reported from the blaze, a firefighter suffered a minor back sprain after slipping and falling. A member of a crew that was working on repairs to the church discovered the fire, which appeared to have been burning for a while, said Chicago Fire Commissioner John W. Brooks.

Restoration and repair work on the building had been ongoing after engineers determined structural weaknesses in the roof caused a 10-pound piece of decorative wood to fall 70 feet from the ceiling last February.

According to the church's Web site, a 2006 engineering study found "several critical items" in need of updates, including fire protection in the rectory and replacement of the roof membrane. The church had already replaced its floors and refinished pews.

The last major renovation took place in 1968.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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