The fire that severely damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15 brings flashbacks to a fire the same month 25 years earlier that consumed the roof of St. Anthony of Padua Church in south St. Louis and left its interior in shambles.
St. Anthony Church, 3140 Meramec St., was built in 1910 and features twin 175-feet bell towers with buff brick and stone trim and is considered a neighborhood landmark.
The fire on April 28, 1994, a few weeks after Easter, was believed to have been sparked by a bolt of lightning and was discovered during an early morning Mass. More than 100 firefighters worked aggressively to extinguish the fire and minimize damage, but the church roof was destroyed. A utility worker and another man suffered minor injuries.
Then-Archbishop Justin Rigali came to the scene to express solidarity and hope for the future as a worshiping community. Parish activities continued uninterrupted, with weekend Masses celebrated in the former St. Anthony High School building. Fans dried out the interior and a temporary covering was placed on the roof to prevent rain from causing further damage.
Franciscan Father Frank Coens, pastor of the parish at the time, cited an outpouring of support from people in the parish community, Dutchtown neighborhood and metropolitan area.
Renovation began soon afterward. Masses were celebrated for Christmas in 1995, and the church was fully restored in April, 1996.
Another historic church in St. Louis, St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock) Church in north St. Louis, was damaged from fire after a lightning strike on the middle tower spread to the roof on Aug. 16, 2007. No one was injured, and the stained-glass windows and marble altars were undamaged. Mass was celebrated in the gym until restoration work was complete on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009.
Fire hasn’t been the only destructive force on church roofs. On April 14, the day before the fire in Paris, most of the roof of the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral), made of terne-metal-coated copper, had blown off in the wee hours of the morning. Masses were canceled there Palm Sunday but resumed on Holy Thursday.