Lightning suspected to have caused a fire at a historic Catholic church in Rockford, Illinois.

ROCKFORD, Ill. – Early morning thunderstorms were responsible for a fire that broke out at Rockford’s oldest Catholic church on August 8.

Firefighters at the scene suspect lightning ignited the flames that tore down the roof of the 136-year-old church’s rear quarter, although an official cause of the blaze has yet to be revealed.

Kim Carlson, business manager for St. James Parish, said a neighbor reported a huge “bang” around 5:30 a.m., but it wasn’t until just before 7 a.m. that a passerby walking a dog smelled smoke at the west end of St. James Church and called the police.

Firefighters arrived on the scene minutes later, according to St. James’s parish administrator, Father Jhonatan Sarmiento, who was in the parsonage preparing for morning mass. Sarmiento was alerted to the fire and was able to remove and secure the Blessed Sacrament when firefighters arrived.

As firefighters extended hoses and ladders to battle the flames, neighbors, parishioners, St. James staff and Rockford Bishop David J. Malloy gathered in the sodden parking lot next to the church to watch and pray.

Standing under an umbrella and staring in disbelief, Sarmiento said all he could think about was the long history of his parish and especially the people in that long history who had made St. James a part of their lives.

“We just celebrated 169 years,” he told The Observer, the Rockford diocesan newspaper. “Thinking about it, the community is so proud of the history, of so many memories, of traditions, of history. He (St. James) is such an important part of the community, there are even parishioners who don’t don’t live within the boundaries, but this has always been their parish and they come here.

“I can’t stop thinking about all that and them,” he said. “It’s sad.”

It took firefighters about an hour to extinguish the flames that destroyed part of the roof. Two ladders were then deployed to position firefighters on the roof to begin ‘opening’ it to check for more flames and hot spots, ensuring the fire was fully extinguished.

In a statement released to local media and posted on its website, the Diocese of Rockford said it is “cooperating fully with the Rockford Fire Department as the department completes its work to assess the building’s stability of the church and report its findings to the diocesan administration.”

“As soon as possible and pending this report, the diocese will then carry out an assessment of the interior of the church,” he said, adding that adjusters were on the scene and “would assess damage as soon as it is safe to do so”. then.”

The parish office also planned to announce “alternative Mass arrangements,” the statement added.

It was later reported that three firefighters were transported to local hospitals for injuries sustained early in the three-alarm firefighting efforts. The injuries were not life threatening.

“It’s quite a tragedy this morning,” Malloy said as he watched the firefighters’ efforts. He thanked the firefighters and rescue workers on site “and the great care they took for the church, for themselves, for everyone’s safety”.

“I am grateful to Father Sarmiento and the parishioners, some of whom are already coming here. It is good for us to be together even in a sad time like this to commit ourselves to repair, renew and start over,” the Bishop said.

He also asked for continued prayers for injured firefighters.

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Wiegert is editor of The Observer, the newspaper of the Diocese of Rockford.

Jerry B. Hatch