Parishioners urged to look for hand of God

Phoenix firefighters work to put out the the still-smoldering St. Joseph Church. The church building was destroyed in a fire in the early morning hours of May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the parish’s patron. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

At 12:08 a.m., May 1, Fr. Reggie Carreon received an alert that there was a fire at the church. When he arrived 20 minutes later, the building was already engulfed in flames.Firefighters battled the inferno through the night and successfully saved the other buildings on the parish campus.

Fr. Carreon said other parishioners joined him in the middle of the night as they prayed until 3 a.m.

Celebrating Mass just hours later in the parish hall, Fr. Carreon, pastor of St. Joseph’s, referenced the psalm for the day, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Ps 34).

“I’d like to change that to ‘The Lord hears the cry of St. Joseph parishioners,’” he said, noting the sadness they all felt with the loss of their worship space.

Fr. Reggie Carreon, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, lifts up the Eucharist during a daily Mass celebrated in the parish hall adjacent to the burned down church. Concelebrating are diocesan vicar general Fr. Fred Adamson (far left) and vicar for priests Fr. David Sanfilippo. The church building was destroyed in a fire in the early morning hours of May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the parish’s patron. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

As of press time, the cause of the fire was still unknown, according to representatives from the Phoenix Fire Department. A final report is pending lab results analyzing photos and samples taken at the scene and identifying a cause at this point would be premature, they said.

In the opening prayer, Fr. Carreon invoked the parish’s patron, St. Joseph the Worker, whose feast day was that day. While plans to build a new church had already been in the works, Fr. Carreon asked the saint “to really put into real life the dream and the plan that our parish has been dreaming. By necessity now, we are going to have — in God’s plan, and with the assistance of our parishioners — a new church.”

St. Joseph parishioners wipe away tears during the daily Mass celebrated in the parish hall after a fire destroyed the church May 1. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

The parish was also set to celebrate its golden jubilee this month, with the publication of a commemorative book. Just days earlier, the parish buried its longtime former pastor Fr. Frank Fernandez, who had served 1995-2010 and passed away April 8.

During his homily, Fr. Carreon mentioned that during the night he and other parishioners prayed that something would be saved.

Shortly after the Mass ended, vicar general Fr. Fred Adamson, who concelebrated, presented the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament to a grateful Fr. Carreon. Parishioners who were praying their shift in the perpetual Adoration chapel when the fire started had covered the monstrance and it was kept safe during the fire.

“The monstrance was covered by a person, the last adorer,” Fr. Carreon tearfully told The Catholic Sun. “That was the miracle that has happened.”

St. Joseph pastor Fr. Reggie Carreon (left) joyfully accepts the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament from the Adoration chapel that was saved from the blaze that destroyed the church May 1. Diocese of Phoenix vicar general Fr. Fred Adamson brought the Blessed Sacrament to the pastor. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)
St. Joseph parishioner Teresa Caldera shares her relief at seeing the crucifix that belonged to her uncle, the late Fr. Raymond Laussy, that she donated to the community after a fire destroyed the church May 1. She had feared the family heirloom was also destroyed in the fire. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Parishioner Teresa Caldera experienced a similar miracle that day. When her uncle — an Illinois priest who’d served in the Diocese of Phoenix during his retirement — passed away, she donated his crucifix to the church. It had been hanging above the altar in the church, she said, though it was removed during a recent remodel.

“The family had a text line going, and one of my brother’s comments was, ‘Maybe we’ll have a Notre Dame miracle,’” she said, referencing the relics and Blessed Sacrament saved from the blaze at the famed Paris cathedral April 15. “I’m like, it’s a wood cross — I don’t think so.” But when Fr. Carreon celebrated Mass in the hall, there it was on the wall. “I was just like, ‘Aleluia! Thank you, God.’”

Larissa Harvey, a 29-year-old lifelong parishioner, was baptized and confirmed at the church. She lives nearby and came to the church to see for herself because she couldn’t believe it was real when she first heard about it on the news.

“I’ve been here for an hour now, just watching it,” she told the Sun. “I was just here the other day at the Adoration chapel — it’s been helping me through some tough times right now, so it’s pretty heartbreaking.”

St. Joseph parishioner Rene White prays a Rosary outside of the church as she watches firefighters put out the then still-smoldering church. The church building was destroyed in a fire in the early morning hours of May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the parish’s patron. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)
Macbeth Torno, a member of St. Joseph Parish’s Filippino community, tearfully shares her sadness at seeing the church reduced to rubble after a fire destroyed the church May 1. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Macbeth Torno, who has been a parishioner at St. Joseph for more than three decades, said she learned about the fire at about 1 a.m. when she received a text advising scheduled adorers not to come. Later in the morning she saw pictures on the news.

“When I heard about it, it was a true devastation. I thought about why this is happening,” said Torno, who is a member of the parish’s Filippino community. “I just hope that people’s faith — and also those who have erred in their faith — will come back and believe in His love and mercy. And maybe this is a wake-up call for all of us that we should love Him because He loves us so much, and to also love one another.”

In remarks at the end of the Mass, Fr. Adamson assured the community of the prayers of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and the Diocese of Phoenix.

“When something like this happens, it’s a great tragedy. We can harken back just a few weeks when Notre Dame was burning and the whole nation and, actually, the world was drawn by that,” he said. “But at the heart of that cathedral, it was the exact same thing we just did here on this altar. At the heart of it is Jesus Christ, our savior. That triumphs always, and we must remember that God calls us to be a people of faith, hope and charity, and that remains with us. The hope is in rebuilding and coming together as a community.”

Fr. Adamson also prayed for the firefighters, noting that when he arrived, one of them was laying down and resting because he’d been battling the flames all night. One non-Catholic woman had approached him and asked how her church community could help, he relayed. Another woman bought Kleenexes and gave them to him to distribute to the crying parishioners.

“How beautiful just little acts of kindness will start to come out in the community,” he said. “So let’s always look for the hand of God. He always guides us through times like this.”

The view of the inside of St. Joseph Church through a window. The church building was destroyed in a fire in the early morning hours of May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the parish’s patron. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

In a media statement, Diocese of Phoenix officials expressed their prayers of support for the St. Joseph community.

“This morning we awoke to the tragic news of the fire at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Phoenix,” the statement said.

“We are heartbroken for the St. Joseph Catholic community and we are grateful for the bravery of the fire fighters and first responders.”

Masses will be celebrated in the parish hall just adjacent to the church, Fr. Carreon said.

“Today on this feast day of St. Joseph the Worker,” the diocese statement said, “we ask the community to join us in prayer.”