FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) - "It’s shocking and devastating to see that happen."
That’s how Father Mark Gurtner of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese described the hellish flames that rose from the beacon of heavenly hope in Paris on Monday.
For many, it was a scene unlike any other, for Catholics in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, something they know well.
The original St. Mary’s Catholic Church was a beacon of hope for the poor and homeless in Fort Wayne. However, on September 2nd 1993, the diocese lost the church due to the wrath of fire.
Father Gurtner was in Boston at the time, studying to become a priest. He knew what it meant to lose St. Mary’s.
Fr. Gurtner said "for us here in Fort Wayne to have lost St. Mary’s, for many, it would have been a great tragedy. A great, heartfelt tragedy."
Dottie Carpenter, a parishioner of the former church said "Actually, I could feel pain in my chest, heart because it was my church and so many memories and so many good things that St. Mary’s does."
She watched the Notre Dame Cathedral fire on TV yesterday.
She recounted, "When I saw the spire at Notre Dame fall yesterday, I remembered very vividly the steeple of St. Mary’s coming down also."
She remembers so vividly because on that fateful day, she was inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church when it was struck by lightning, and she did what she could to help save her church.
"I remember that they couldn’t break the window because they were so strong and I remember that Father Tom O’Connor and I helped pull the hose in."
Dottie recalls the emotions of that day were similar to the images from Paris, saying "people crying, people praying, looking up, traffic stopping. It was just a lot of people in the parking lot, hoses coming from everywhere trying to get it out."
St. Mary’s was eventually transformed to the St. Mary’s Mother of God Catholic Church.
In the Catholic faith, fire is a symbol of transformation and just how St. Mary’s was transformed to something new, Father Gurtner believes the Notre Dame fire is transforming the faith.
He said, "Maybe we can kind of see that, as a result of the tragedy at Notre Dame, some building up of faith that has come from that."