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October 23, 2015

Spontaneous combustion causes church fire on 64th Street

“We will not be discouraged—not by fire, not by destruction.” These words rang out over the crowd at St. Thomas the Apostle Church on Sunday, October 18, as Monsignor Michael Schmitz gave his sermon to the displaced people of Shrine of Christ the King Church, which was damaged in a fire earlier this month.

Chicago Fire Department detectives told ABC7 News that the spontaneous combustion of wood-staining rags may have caused the October 7 flames.

Now roofless and smoke-stained, the 92-year-old Shrine of Christ the King Church stands on the corner of South Woodlawn Ave and East 64th Street, next to the Church’s offices and rectory and the St. Martin de Porres House of Hope shelter for women and children. While the fire seriously damaged the church itself, it did not spread to any other buildings. Many religious artifacts were salvaged in the fire, including the Church’s prized statue of Christ from 18th-century Spain.

“[The congregation was] really in shock because nobody thinks something like this could happen to them,” said Reverend Canon Michael Talarico, provincial supervisor of Christ the King Church.

While the Archdiocese of Chicago evaluates the damage, masses have been moved to nearby St. Thomas the Apostle Church, a Catholic church located about a mile north of the Shrine of Christ the King Church.

Dan Sharp, a member of the Shrine of Christ the King congregation and attendee of Sunday’s mass, said, “Everyone’s been very supportive, everyone’s come together.” The congregation is currently working to raise funds to repair the church. Their GoFundMe page, under the name “Shrine Fire Restoration Fund,” has raised close to $50,000, and other branches of the Shrine of Christ the King Church across the world have also been sending donations.

“I’ve been receiving even little letters from children,” Talarico said. “A little six-year-old had written a very nice message, he put four dollars in there, and he sent it. He said, ‘I want to help you to rebuild your church.’”

It is unclear how long it will be before the Shrine of Christ the King congregation can return to its place of worship. After the analysis of the damage is completed, the church leadership will examine their options concerning the repairs.

In the meantime, the Church’s leadership is focusing on continuing to serve the community. Classes for children and adults will continue in the rectory and baptisms are being conducted regularly. “This is really the Chicago way,” Talarico said. “The Chicago way has always been, in a time of tragedy like fire, [to say] ‘Let’s band together and let’s bring some good out of this.’”

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