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March 10, 2005 Edition   •   Volume 135, No. 9   •   Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

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The Catholic Herald is the official newspaper of the Diocese of Madison. Its purpose is to inform and educate people of the Diocese through communications that proclaim Gospel values, report the news, and comment on issues as they pertain to the mission of the Catholic Church, which is to bring all in Jesus Christ to the Father.
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Breaking News ...

Fire: Breaks out at St. Raphael Cathedral

photo of fire at St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison
Black smoke rises and flames leap from the roof destroyed by fire at the Diocese of Madison's 150-year-old St. Raphael Cathedral in Madison, Wis. The fire broke out in the early morning hours of March 14. (Catholic Herald photo by Julianne Nornberg)

Past articles on Cathedral:

Dec. 9, 2004 edition:
New spire crowns St. Raphael Cathedral

Oct. 7, 2004 edition:
St. Raphael Cathedral: Marks 150th anniversary of cornerstone

Sept. 30, 2004 edition:
New spire: To crown St. Raphael Cathedral ...
• Sidebar: First phase of Cathedral Restoration ...
Spire illustration -- a detailed PDF (Portable Document Format) file of Cathedral spire and its parts (233 KB file size)

Sept. 23, 2004 edition:
Stone by stone: Mason restores stones on cathedral facade

Sept. 16, 2004 edition:
Cathedral: Marks 150th anniversary of laying of cornerstone

Diocese of Madison links:

-- Posted: 3/14/05, 3:20 p.m. Central Time
-- Updated: 3/15/05, 1:20 p.m. Central Time

By Julianne Nornberg

MADISON -- Smoke billowed out of the roof, spire, and bell tower at the 150-year-old St. Raphael Cathedral early March 14 after a fire broke out there, only a few months after the new spire was raised.

The fire began at 5:32 a.m. and the Madison Fire Department was on the scene by 5:39 a.m., where they worked defensively to control the two-alarm fire, shooting water at it from the hoses of four ladder trucks.

The fire destroyed the roof, which collapsed into the church.

Msgr. Paul J. Swain, rector of the cathedral, said March 15 that from what he could see, the pews were not burned and the altar, walls, mosaic, and sacristy were not substantially damaged, but structural engineers will have to evaluate everything. Monsignor Swain said that other than effects of smoke, the rectory, where all parish records are stored, was "in good shape."

There were no reported injuries. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

Around 8:30 a.m. March 14 Fire Chief Debra Amesqua said the fire was under control, but firefighters would go into the tower to try to put out spot fires.

When structural engineers from J.H. Findorff and Sons, Inc., Madison, did an evaluation of the steeple in the morning March 14, they determined that the steeple would have to be taken down to ensure that it would not collapse, she said. But late afternoon reports indicated that the steeple was stable and would not have to be taken down.

According to Monsignor Swain, it was still being determined March 15 whether or not the bells in the bell tower would need to be taken down.

The new spire was raised on top of the cathedral's steeple in late November of 2004 as part of a $1 million project, the first step in what was anticipated to be a multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the cathedral.

Smoke could be seen for miles around the cathedral early March 14 and many people gathered to watch. Police blocked off local streets around the cathedral to traffic as the fire department worked to control the fire.

Monsignor Swain was in the rectory when he heard about the fire on the radio. He left the rectory unharmed.

"We have a significant loss here," said Monsignor Swain, noting the 150-year history of the cathedral. "But our faith is more than a building." During Lent there is the theme of light coming from the darkness, he said, noting that they now look forward to the light yet to come.

Parishioners and priests of the diocese came to greet him at the scene and offer words of comfort.

St. Raphael Cathedral parishioner Charles Scott was one of the many who came to see if he could do anything to help.

"This is so painful to see," he said. "So many people had been giving compliments on the new steeple."

"It's a sad day for Madison," said Amesqua while the fire department tried to gain control of the fire.

"It's a tremendous tragedy," said Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Madison. It's a real tragedy any time this happens, but especially during the Lenten season and especially after they just put up the new steeple, he said.

Bishop Morlino reacted in prayer when awakened with the news of the cathedral fire March 14.

"People know that I have appreciation for the cathedral," said Bishop Morlino who regularly celebrates Sunday morning Mass at the historic church. "I am in a state of prayer and a state of shock."

At a 2 p.m. press conference March 14 near the cathedral, the bishop said he'd gone "from shock to serenity. In the end I trust God.

"I am very grateful that there was no loss of life and for the safety of Msgr. Swain, who was able to get himself out of the rectory after the fire broke out," said Bishop Morlino. "I'm grateful everyone remains safe."

Firefighters assisted us in removing the Blessed Sacrament with reverence so that it could be secured in a neighboring church, he said. Monsignor Swain went into the cathedral with firefighters to remove the Blessed Sacrament, which was then taken to St. Patrick Church, Madison.

Bishop Morlino and Monsignor Swain expressed deep gratitude to the fire department, firefighters, police department, and other civil servants involved. The Madison Fire Department was aided by the Fitchburg Fire Department.

I was just praying with the people of the parish yesterday and feel the loss of a father who loses his home, the bishop said, explaining that the cathedral is the bishop's spiritual home.

"When the bishop celebrates with the people at the cathedral, that's symbolically like having every Catholic in the diocese together," so the value of the building is rooted in that, said Bishop Morlino.

"I'm reminded of the day I had to have open heart surgery. Suddenly there was a problem and I did not foresee it. The world looks different. I miss this church and I am one with the parish family who is grieving with me," he said.

"When tragedies happen, good people always pull together and rise to the challenge," he said. "If there is a tragedy, God draws good from it. I'm sad and I feel loss, but I'm not discouraged."

Bishop Morlino said decisions about the future of the cathedral won't be made until after he meets with diocesan consultors March 15.

"Until I meet with the diocesan consultors, I'm not ruling anything out," he said. "We'll have to see the condition things are in and take it one day at a time."

People in the community have commented on their appreciation of the new steeple since it went up, he said. "I will not lose sight of that."

Firefighters began going through the debris March 15. According to Amesqua, the fire department will be at the cathedral all week as they determine the status of the inside of the church.

Decisions about Holy Week services including the Chrism Mass will be made after the bishop's meeting with diocesan consultors March 15.

Eucharist: 'Jewel in crown of Catholicism,' speaker tells parish leaders

photo of Msgr. Kevin Irwin addressing Parish Leadership Day participants

Keynote speaker Msgr. Kevin Irwin addresses Parish Leadership Day participants. (Catholic Herald photo by Pam Payne)

MADISON -- The Eucharist is the jewel in the crown of Catholicism and we should look at the different facets of it. "We are a Eucharistic folk and without it we have no life or breath."

That's what keynote speaker Msgr. Kevin Irwin told parish staff members and volunteers at a March 3 Parish Leadership Day at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center here. The day included a two-part keynote address, workshops, and Mass.

Before Monsignor Irwin was introduced, Bishop Robert C. Morlino thanked all in attendance for their sacrifice of time. Our gathering today is an experience in our being church, he said.   Full story ...

Only in the print edition ...
News & Features:

Special section: Parish Nurses

Special section: Retirement Living

Religious liberty:
Raised in court cases

Pope's recovery:
Vatican hopes he returns by Easter


• Question Corner
by Fr. John Dietzen --
Questions: Society of St. Pius X; another goal of evangelization

• Gethsemane as the Place
of Transformation

by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser --
Being inadequate: The spirit is willing but 'the flesh is weak'

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'Can you hear me now?':
Youth learn of power of prayer at rally

MADISON -- Having a real relationship with God. Paying attention to how you show God's love to yourself and other people. Understanding that the power of prayer is real.

These are some of the lessons youth learned from Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli of APeX Ministries during the recent Diocese of Madison's Middle School Youth Rally held at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison.

"Can you hear me now?" was the theme of the day.

Gift of ourselves

With juggling and humor, personal testimony and stories, Farmer and Monterastelli held the students' attention and shared their faith in a captivating way.   Full story ...

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