St. John the Evangelist Church was just over an hour away from celebrating its 9 a.m. Mass when a “small firebomb” was thrown through a window near the sacristy, where the priest prepares for Mass, said Neil McCarthy, communications director for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Marc Porlier, 43, was arrested by Ontario Provincial Police in Huntsville, north of Toronto, on April 17. He has been charged with arson and mischief over $5,000.
Porlier’s lawyer, Daisy Bygrave, said he was a parishoner at St. John and a former altar server. She added that Porlier is a well educated man with a degree in economics from York University, but has had mental health issues.
Toronto Fire Services arrived at the church within minutes of receiving a call at 8:05 a.m. Easter Sunday and the fire was confined to a small area, according to fire officials. The fire was out within minutes, but the church had filled with smoke and all masses were cancelled. Officials said no one was in the building at the time.
The church suffered “significant smoke damage,” according to an April 18 statement from the archdiocese. It’s estimated the repairs and cleanup will cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
The church hopes to re-open for April 22-23 weekend services.Security cameras caught footage of a man who police say is suspected of setting the fire. Porlier, of no fixed address, is known to police and he has been frequently seen around the area where the church is located in the Weston-Lawrence area, police said.
Police posted photos of the suspect and warned the public not to approach him as they began their search.
Toronto mayor John Tory visited the parish on April 17, meeting with pastor Fr. Andrew Maderak and parishioners. “When this kind of thing happens, it cuts to the heart of the community,” Tory told reporters.
The statement from the archdiocese said it appreciated “the tremendous efforts of our first responders and the thoughts and prayers that have been conveyed from throughout the community.”