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St. Mary Magdalene Church Ready to Rise from Ashes

Site of the former St. Mary Magdalene Church, Springfield Gardens.
Site of the former St. Mary Magdalene Church, Springfield Gardens.

After three and a half years of waiting, the parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene, Springfield Gardens, can finally rejoice and be glad. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, parishioners received bittersweet news that their beloved church building was demolished.

On Oct. 28, 2010, the interior and some of the exterior of the church were destroyed by a devastating fire. Since that time, parishioners have not been able to use the building. The parish has been using a neighboring school’s gymnasium for Mass. Volunteers help set up the gym with microphones, chairs, musical equipment and an altar and put everything away after the 11 a.m. Mass every Sunday.

One item that was not destroyed in the fire happened to be the church bell, which many thought had been discarded during a prior renovation. Some parishioners didn’t even know the bell existed.

In 1924, a bell was installed in the church tower. It rang for funerals and the Easter Vigil. The bell was operated manually by a rope, which entered the church through the ceiling. After renovations in 1988, the bell was thought to have disappeared.

Lifelong parishioner Jim Wade, who recently passed away, and Deacon Lee Williams searched the parish buildings for several days after the fire, trying to find out where the bell was stored, but they were unable to find it. It was assumed the bell had been carted off with the debris resulting from the renovations.

Once Lost, Now Found

However, when the church was demolished a few weeks ago, the bell was found to still be in the bell tower. According to the demolition crew, it was boxed in the tower with no rope extending through the ceiling. When they looked into the tower, all they were able to see was an empty space.

“Jim must have been looking for the bell and [helped the crew] find it,” said Sister Maryellen Kane, C.S.J., parish life coordinator for St. Mary Magdalene. The bell and its support, as well as the 1924 cornerstone, have been put aside and saved for posterity.

Within these last three years, St. Mary Magdalene embarked on a Capital Campaign called “We Have Seen the Lord” to aid in the rebuilding of the church. To date, it has raised over $680,000.

A Second Home

Although the historic church building is gone, it still remains close to the hearts of parishioners. Gisele Bernard, a member for nearly 43 years, stated, “I was in shock when I heard the church burned down. I started going to that church in July, 1971. It is like a second home to me.”

Now she and the rest of the parishioners have something to which they can look forward.

“I cannot wait to see what the new church will look like,” she said.

Even the young people of the parish were devastated when they heard the news about the fire, but now that the building is gone, they are regaining some hope.

Samantha Antoine, a member of the high school youth group called G.I.F.T. (Growing In Faith Together), said: “It’s sad to see the building go, but it’s a sign of progress and moving forward. We haven’t lost our (church) family, but it is nice to know we will have a home again soon.”

The parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene are no longer a people in darkness. Now they can truly say they have seen the light.[hr]

Contributing to this article were Taryn Bettis, Cara Bloncourt, Brother Phil Rofrano and Brother Ray Blixt.

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