In a pew with his family, young Liam Corley, age 6, watched intently as the events unfolded around the altar at St. Monica Church.
In the Rite of Dedication, Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso blessed the altar, laid in the rectangular marble stone containing a relic, then anointed the stone and the granite surface with sacred chrism.
As the choir, including Liam's sister, Emily, filled the church with song, Bishop Rivituso worked his way around the sacred table, spreading the blessed oil by hand and making sure all four corners and everything in between were covered.
Liam was impressed, not so much by the ritual but by the high-ranking Church official called to duty.
Who was that zucchettoed and mitred man?
"The pope," Liam told his mom, Mary, as only a 6-year old can.
Later, Mary Corley used his answer as an opportunity for catechesis.
"Well, he is a bishop of St. Louis, and the pope is the bishop of Rome, so it's similar," she told Liam.
Bishop Rivituso's presence at this joyous occasion brought St. Monica Parish full circle, from the shock of an arson two days after Christmas to the symbolic rebirth and affirmation of the parish family with the new altar's consecration in a Sunday Mass on July 9.
On the night of the fire, Dec. 27, pastor Father Joe Weber immediately had called upon then-Msgr. Rivituso, who dropped everything and drove to the parish as quickly as possible.
"He said, 'We've got a problem; the church is on fire,'" Bishop Rivituso recalled in the homily, just before the consecration ritual. "I needed to be here with all of you ... to be a representative of the archbishop (and show) 'we' have a problem, not just St. Monica Parish. As a Church, we're consecrated to help to each other in our time of need."
Bishop Rivituso called it a "great blessing" to be there in St. Monica's time of need. In short order, he helped Father Weber secure the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle, visited with concerned parishioners stopping by throughout the evening and, in media interviews, portended to this day in July.
"I told them, 'rather than being defeated by the arson, we're looking forward to the day we gather and worship in this sacred space and give praise to God and His blessings in our life,'" he said in the homily. "This is the day."
The parish has been worshipping in the church since mid-February, using a temporary altar from the adoration chapel after a six-week cleanup of extensive smoke and water damage. But despite that short-term inconvenience, the arson caused no disruption to parish sacramental life. Masses and confessions went on as scheduled, just relocated to the adjoining school building.
Statues, stained-glass windows and the organ were cleaned, the walls were repainted, and hymnals and missals were replaced, leaving only work on the main altar. The old altar was irreparably damaged in the arson, with marble skirting blackened and warped, and a huge chunk of the granite top broken off.
Starting June 28, workers from Ford Marble in New Athens, Ill., installed the new marble skirting, with a reddish vein symbolizing the blood of Christ, around the original altar base of simple concrete blocks and mortar. Then, they topped it off with a 1,400-pound slab of granite.
Father Weber plans to repurpose the original marble in a new presider chair and ambo, which were piled onto the Nativity scene and destroyed in the fire set at the foot of the altar. The original granite was buried at Calvary Cemetery in accordance with canon law for sacred religious artifacts.
Bishop Rivituso made it official with the consecration, impressing not only Liam but the greater congregation as well. With the exception of new churches, the Rite of Dedication of an Altar is rare.
Parishioner Lois Mans called the ritual "pretty incredible." Husband, Greg, described it as "very special" that Bishop Rivituso came back to bless the altar. "Where we were on the night of the arson to right now, it makes you feel good," he said.
Sister Glynis Mary McManamon, a Sister of the Good Shepherd, succinctly called the service, simply, "Beautiful." RELATED ARTICLE(S):Arson draws parish family, community together