Our Misfortune in 1942

When at Christmas, 1942, Midnight Mass was celebrated on the newly installed marble altar of St. Mark the Evangelist Church, at Lawrence Park.  This event crowned the efforts of those parishioners whose spirit was literally tested by fire and disaster, but whose resurgence will always gleam, in the history of the parish.  Following the disastrous fire of the previous mid-summer, it was suggested that the balance of the work, which was inaugurated with the volunteer services of the men of the congregation, should be finished by awarding its restoration and completion to contractors.  At once, the founder of the parish sensed an attitude of disappointment and reluctance, on the part of his faithful workers.  They would complete the task entrusted to them, by their Bishop.  Fire might destroy the physical work of their hands, but nothing could destroy the enthusiastic spirit of their hearts.  "Father," they said rather sadly, "if we can't finish the work in the church ourselves, we shall have nothing to rally claim as our own.  Strangers will take over where we left off.  The project will no longer have its personal appeal.  Truthfully, we could not point to the building as the work of our own hands.  Never more, could we tell our children the beautiful story of how we created this House to bring God into Lawrence Park.  Please let us finish it by ourselves, even though it may take a longer time."  Consequently, a compromise was effected.  Contractors would repair the section damaged by fire; the men of the parish would complete the section dedicated to Divine Worship.  After five months of sacrifice of time and hours of arduous labor, there arose, phoenix-like from the ruins of the last summer's conflagration, a newly completed church, at whose main altar, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated at Midnight on Christmas for the first time.  The event was a beautiful lesson of service to God, in times when men are so busily engaged in things of the world.  On the Sunday following the catastrophe, the Pastor said in part: "Men have always sought to resolve the enigma of life and how often in vain.  Today, many of us are asking the question, 'why did this catastrophe happen to us?'  Only God knows the reason, and we may be confident that it is a comforting one.  However, when all the elements for combustion are present, a fire naturally starts.  Only a miracle could change the law of nature, and we do not feel worthy of having God work miracles for us, although those who suffer can hardly help challenging the wisdom of His Ways.  But, again, that wisdom is already manifesting itself, for from these ashes has already baffled those who came out Friday night to witness our trial and to extend to us the hand of sympathy.  We shall always remember the busy swarm of men and women, who all day Friday, with sadness in their hearts but with a gleam glistening through their tears, plunged into the task of cleaning debris to make ready for Sunday's Masses."

"The destructive element of fire, in two short hours, erased your work.  No longer can you point with pride to the fruit of your hand, but your good deeds, your sacrifice, your hours of labor, your struggle with the cold and heat, your heartaches, your ambitions, your hopes and dreams – all these you offer to God and all these cannot be erased from the Book of Life, where they are chronicled always to remain until you come to reap your eternal reward."

The Blessed Sacrament was not reserved in the church under construction.  Father Ward and his parishioners did succeed in saving the sacred vestments and vessels from the burning building.

March 1, 2015