One Year After Fire, Queens Church Is Planning to Rebuild (with slide show)

by Antonina Zielinska

The one-year anniversary of the fire that destroyed the interior of St. Mary Magdalene church, Springfield Gardens, was bittersweet for parishioners who commemorated the day with a prayer service and a social get-together.

Parishioners stood outside the church building, which they have not been able to use for the past year, to sing glory and praise to God in the cold of the October night. They wore glow sticks and used flashlightes to illuminate the darkness.

“We are not a people of darkness,” said Sister Maryellen Kane, C.S.J., parish life coordinator.  “Today we are the light.”

St. Mary Magdalene parishioners observe the one-year anniversary of the fire that destroyed their church building. Above, parishioner Mikki Maynard serves as a lector during on outdoors prayer service while Sister Maryellen Kane, C.S.J. and Deacon Lee Williams hold flashlights to illuminate her reading.

The joy and energy of the people could be heard in their songs of thanksgiving and seen in their dance of praise. They may have been without a proper worshipping space for the past year but their parish remained strong and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has now given them permission to rebuild on the condition that they expand the church building.

Parishioners waited 10 months for a decision from the bishop on the fate of their parish.

“We had a petition that went to the bishop, but what had the most impact for us was prayer to God,” said Dr. Marva Chevalier, member of the parish pastoral council. “And we believed God would touch the bishop’s heart to make a decision favorable to us.”

She said the time that led up the decision was a difficult one for the parish which has been using a school gym for most of their services.

“It was like living in a state of limbo,” she said.  “You continue to worship. You continue to pray. You continue to trust in God.”

“It really was a test of your faith. There were times when you were in a state of despair and you start to lose your faith. And you go back to Scripture and you realize that if you are truly a child of the Lord, he will not leave you in that pain and despair,” she said.

Parishoiner Daniel Bloncourt said he found hope in the faith of the parish. He said volunteers always show up to help in any way they can. Every Saturday night, they set up for Mass in the gym the parish leases to The Martin de Porres School and they put everything away after the Mass on Sunday.

Father Cosmas Nzeabalu, parochial vicar, said the parish continues to fulfill all the functions that it can. All the ministries continue to meet and support the community and Mass is celebrated everyday. However, he said Mass in a gym has its drawbacks.

“Somehow you have the feeling that you are not in a sacred place,” he said. “But you know the Church is the people of God.”

“What consoles you is not the building, but the people of the church. With the presence of the people of God, you also feel the presence of God.”

Cara Bloncourt said the tragedy has in some ways had a positive impact on the parish.

“It united us and strengthened our faith,” she said.

As a leader of the Growing in Faith Together youth group, she has been able to see the dedication of the young people of the parish. She said they volunteer to help and they continue with their usual ministries.

Deacon Earnie Hart said this gives him hope for the prospect of rebuilding a bigger space.

“One of the strengths of this parish is that it has a lot of young people who participate in the various ministries,” he said. “This gives us hope for an ever-growing population.”

Sister Maryellen said when the parish is rebuilt it will accommodate an extra 150 people. The parish will have to come up with $1.3 million in order to build a bigger church after the insurance pays for the existing damage. They are only days into the first stage of the capital campaign which has a goal of raising half a million dollars from the community itself.