St. Patrick Parish reopens three years after fire

A teary-eyed congregation sang Future Full of Hope, by Vince Ambrosetti at Mass two days after a fire decimated St. Patrick Parish church in Hubbard, causing millions of dollars in damage. More than three years later, worshippers joyfully sang Future Full of Hope as the Communion meditation hymn during the reopening Mass for their beloved church.

Father Michael Swierz, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, said, “Future Full of Hope has been a song that all of us held dear to our hearts. Every time we hear those words, it touches so many hearts.”

Father Sweirz addresses the congregation at the rededication Mass at St. Patrick Parish. Photo by Brian Keith.

Hope came full circle on Sunday, March 17, Saint Patrick’s feast day, when Bishop David Bonnar celebrated the 3 p.m. Mass of Blessing at the restored St. Patrick Church. Father Swierz, along with Father Michael Balash and Father John-Michael Lavelle, both sons of the parish, concelebrated the Mass. Priests from throughout the diocese and the Knights of Columbus were also present for the reopening. A reception for parishioners, family and friends followed Mass in the basement social hall.

Deacon John Bartos carried a relic of Saint Patrick in the entrance procession. The relic was gifted to Bishop Bonnar by a priest friend, and Bishop Bonnar in turn gifted the relic to St. Patrick Parish. Fathers Balash and Lavelle gifted a reliquary to house and display the relic in the parish church. Relics are a way Catholics honor saints by connecting to the reality of the saints’ lives on earth in the past and their present closeness with God in eternity.

Closeup of the relic of St. Patrick which is now housed at St. Patrick Parish in Hubbard. Photo by Brian Keith.

Sunday’s Mass marked the first time parishioners gathered in St. Patrick church since the building was forced to close its doors on January 18, 2021. While opening on the patron saint of the parish was special, it wasn’t the original plan. “We had a plan to open in the fall [2023], then we thought Advent, then Christmas. Because of delays in materials, we had to push those back,” Father Swierz explained.

Approximately 800 parishioners and guests packed the parish church for the long-awaited celebration.

Before Mass began Joseph Spurio, parish director of music, presented a musical prelude, God is Here Today, performed by the adult and youth choirs with accompaniment by Gretchen Kuhns, organist.

In welcoming attendees, Father Swierz said, “reopening the doors to our beloved church means that our parish has the opportunity to come back together. Because of COVID and the fire, our whole church hasn’t been together to worship for five years. Today gives us the opportunity to experience all the joy that comes with being a parish family, being together for fellowship, socials, fundraisers, and of course, worship.”

Choir sings at the reopening of St. Patrick Parish in Hubbard. Photo by Brian Keith.

The pastor highlighted a hymn for St. Patrick Church’s reopening, written by Josh Mansfield, to be sung during the Presentation of Gifts. “We begin our celebration with a thankful heart for the hard work of so many and for the hand of God that has been guiding us throughout these past three years,” he said.

Bishop Bonnar began the solemn re-dedication by sprinkling the congregation with water as a “sign of repentance and … a sign of the cleansing waters of salvation in which we have been washed in Christ and made a temple of His spirit.”

Bishop Bonnar blesses the sanctuary with holy water at St. Patrick Parish in Hubbard. Photo by Brian Keith

In his homily, Bishop Bonnar said, “after being in the parish center, it is very special to be in this place we call home today.” He acknowledged the usual refrain from celebration during Lent, “but with all due respect, the over-three-years fast from praying in this sacred space is over. The long wait and sense of being displaced is over. Finally, this wonderful faith community of St. Patrick Parish, under the leadership of your pastor, Father Swierz, returns home to this holy place of grace to rise from the ashes.”

The bishop thanked firefighters, police officers, medics and EMTs for their efforts in “mitigating the damages, securing the Blessed Sacrament, and keeping everyone safe on that cold January evening.” He also thanked the laborers, contractors and vendors who “had a hand in restoring God’s house.” The above individuals were seated in the front rows in honor of their roles in saving and rebuilding the church.

First Responders pray in the first two pews at the rededication Mass at St. Patrick Parish in Hubbard. Photo by Brian Keith.

Finally, Bishop Bonnar extended thanks to Father Swierz, the parish staff, the deacons and the faithful of St. Patrick Parish. “You demonstrated to all of us that the Church is more than brick and mortar. It is the living stones that gather and pray as a community,” Bishop Bonnar remarked.

Referencing the patronal feast day of Saint Patrick, Bishop Bonnar urged, “It truly is a time to renew our devotion to this holy man who, even after his death, has a way of bringing people together.”

“Just a few moments ago, we each did something that we have not been able to do for three years. We crossed the threshold and entered this church, God’s house, to participate in the greatest of prayers, the Holy Mass. At the heart of this prayer is Eucharist, which means ‘Thanksgiving.’ We have so much to be thankful for,” continued Bishop Bonnar.

Bishop Bonnar delivers his homily at the reopening of St. Patrick Parish in Hubbard. Photo by Brian Keith.

Referencing the day’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah [31:31-34], the Bishop stated, “it reminds us of our God, who desires to be in a covenant relationship with us. This forgiving God seeks to have all, least to greatest, come to know him.”

The day’s second reading from Hebrews [5: 7-9] showed how Jesus, even as the Son of God, “learned obedience from what he suffered.”

“Suffering is a rich classroom. No doubt, the suffering of being displaced over these last three years has taught us the importance of patience, trust and hope in the Christian life,” Bishop Bonnar commented.

The Gospel [John 12: 20-33] story of those wanting to see Jesus asks, “Isn’t that the desire we seek to realize every day?” Bishop Bonnar remarked. He noted that Jesus uses this example to teach his disciples about the fruits of his death and the promise of eternal life.  “Jesus said, ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.’ These words point to a prayer he will make his own as he nears death, namely, ‘that all may be one,’” continued Bishop Bonnar.

In concluding his homily, Bishop Bonnar counseled, “as we prepare to cross the threshold at the doors of the church to return to the world, let us take Jesus with us to be part of our thoughts, words, and deeds … May we continue to be the living stones of the Church aspiring every day to be one in Christ.”

More than 800 people attended Mass for the reopening of St. Patrick Parish. Photo by Brian Keith

Before the final blessing, Father Swierz offered a few remarks. Thanking all those who helped save and restore the church building, the pastor said, “the fire was a terrible blow—to not only St. Patrick’s but to all the outreach we do in the community. We knew our future was full of hope and we could build a beautiful place of worship. We made it through this most difficult time in the history of our parish.”

Father Swierz also expressed his gratitude for the firefighters who risked their lives to retrieve the Holy Eucharist. “When we had the tabernacle refinished, there is a dent in the back of the tabernacle because of your saving that tabernacle, but more so the Holy Eucharist within it. That small mark will always be there as a reminder of what you did for us,” Father related.

Following Father Swierz’s comments, Bishop Bonnar asked those present to offer a sincere and heartfelt thanks to Father Swierz for his leadership, which drew a standing ovation from the congregation. The bishop also thanked all those who participated in the day’s Mass for helping us “pray so heartily and with such joy.”

Before blessing the congregation with the relic of Saint Patrick, Bishop Bonnar gave a brief history of the saint: Kidnapped at age 16, Saint Patrick spent six years in Ireland as a slave until his escape. Eventually, Saint Patrick returned to Ireland “in a spirit of forgiveness and triumph leading [his former enslavers] to the kingdom of God. Saint Patrick knew what it meant to be displaced, just as you’ve been displaced for three years. He knew what it meant to suffer and to be hurt. We need, through the intercession of Saint Patrick, to rise above suffering, like we’re rising above the ashes here today. Let us pray to be people of love, to learn from our school of suffering and to be people of charity,” Bishop Bonnar concluded.

Parishioners line up for communion at St. Patrick Parish's reopening. Photo by Brian Keith

Ed McCormick, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and a retired truck driver, attended Mass at the parish prior to the fire. “I’ve been in churches all over the country and this is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever been in,” McCormick said.

Lisa Hosack, director of operations and the accountant for the parish and a 26-year employee, described the rebuilt church as “amazing and breathtaking. We’re very happy.” Recalling the night of the fire, Hosack stated, “It was unbelievable when the fire hit. We were outside for hours watching in disbelief.” Being present for the reopening Mass “is surreal right now,” she added.

Parishioner Tina Kali found the reopening of the church very emotional. “This day means a lot. My father-in-law, Stephen Kali, was on the committee to build the church in the 1960s. He was devastated when the fire happened. He passed away six months ago. He would have been thrilled to see this. The church is just beautiful. Father Mike worked hard to make this dream a reality,” Kali said through tears.

For parishioner Rosemary Hollenbank, 90 years young, the reopening “is a blessing.” Parishioner Theresa Sebest commented, “It’s good to be back. It’s been a long wait.”

Hubbard Fire Captain John Bizub, lifelong resident of Hubbard, noted, “as firefighters, we see a lot. The night of the fire, even for us as firefighters, was overwhelming. We did what we had to do. We had help from other communities around us. We saved as much as we could. Walking in today, compared to what it was the night of the fire, is overwhelming.”

St. Patrick Parish began as a mission of St. Columba Cathedral in 1865. Construction of a small wooden church began two years later. Mass was first celebrated in the partially completed church with a carpenter’s bench as the altar and unenclosed windowsills as pews. In 1868, St. Patrick mission attained parish status. The first Catholics were primarily German and Irish immigrants.

The first Mass in the present church was celebrated on February 25, 1967. On June 3, 2018 the parish began a two-week celebration of its 150th anniversary.

Altar servers process out at the conclusion of the St. Patrick rededication Mass. Photo by Brian Keith.

Recalling the morning after the fire Father Swierz said, “All the soot and ash had to be cleaned. Smoke damage was throughout the whole building. The floor in the sanctuary had caved in, the mosaic behind the side chapel had fallen. Downstairs the lights were like noodles hanging from the ceiling.”

The parish center, formerly the school gym, became a temporary worship site. “We took out all the bleachers, cleaned it up, put up Stations of the Cross, baptismal font, all our statues and everything. We made it into a church. So really and truly it looked like a church and felt like a church to the extent that all our Baptisms and funerals were held there,” Father Swierz explained.

In preparation for the reopening, a request was made for volunteers to help clean the church and bring things over from the temporary church. On Thursday, March 7, “Everyone came together, young and old. The amount of people that showed up would astonish you,” noted Father Swierz. Pictures on the parish’s website showed dozens of parishioners coming forward to do their part.

As devastating as the fire was, Father Swierz stated, “I didn’t see it as the loss of our building, but rather the hope for a new beginning and a time to pull together as a church community to restore and rebuild.”

The three-year timeline for reconstruction was needed as the following items have been rebuilt or replaced:

  • The entire building was rebuilt from floor to roof.
  • The sanctuary floor was severely damaged and caved in, so it was rebuilt.
  • Sanctuary back wall rebuilt, all electrical wiring had to be pulled and replaced as well as heating and cooling. Boiler system had to be brought up to code and replaced.
  • The entire kitchen had to be rebuilt and brought up to code.
  • Marble on floors and walls had to be replaced.
  • Pews were refinished. The nameplates of parishioners who donated for a previous refurbishing project, which had been placed on individual pews, are now displayed on wall mounts.
  • The altar, baptismal font and ambo were all replaced or repaired.
  • A new metal roof, as well as insulation and church wooden ceiling were all replaced. All new metal, wooden doors were replaced.
  • The elevator, lighting and sound systems had to be replaced.
  • The new Steinway piano and pipe organ had to be cleaned and rebuilt.
  • One parish lot had to be resurfaced.

Read the October 2023 feature story published in the Catholic Echo magazine about St. Patrick Parish’s restoration efforts.

View the multimedia coverage from St. Patrick Parish’s reopening Mass.

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Mary Ellen Pelligrini

Mary Ellen has worked in the publishing industry for over 25 years, mainly in the Catholic press. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in family studies. She has contributed to Catholic publications, including St. Anthony Messenger, Liguorian and Our Sunday Visitor and has won two Catholic Press Association Awards. Her faith formation included 16 years of Catholic education, which instilled in her the importance of covering news and events from a Catholic perspective. She enjoys reporting on the ministries of priests, religious, the laity and parishes throughout the local diocese. She is a member of the Catholic Media Association and the Youngstown Press Club.
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