St. Mary’s Polish Church in Sydney, N.S., was destroyed by fire Nov. 29. Photo by Terrence Rochon

Sydney Polish church lost to fire

  • December 3, 2014

A long fought battle to save St. Mary’s Polish parish in Sydney, N.S., came to a fiery end on Nov. 29 as the church was reduced to ash, smouldering debris and charred remains.

“We are absolutely devastated by the loss of our church,” said Tom Urbaniak, chair of the parish’s pastoral council. “Word cannot express the shock. Parishioners and friends gathered in the street; the emotion was overwhelming.”

The fire sparked around the noon hour on Nov. 29 and quickly spread throughout the century-old wooden structure. Within two hours Atlantic Canada’s only Polish Catholic parish, recently dubbed a Provincial Heritage Site, lost its church.
About 90 parishioners and members of the surrounding community gathered in the streets to watch local firefighters battle the blaze in vain.

“When I could see the flames from St. Mary’s Polish Church from my living room, I knew it was going to be devastating. I live far enough away that I would never have predicted seeing it so clearly,” said Cathie Chiasson, choking back tears as she recalled the scene. “What was most heartbreaking was witnessing some of the parishioners in tears over the church they had just recently worked so hard fund-raising money for to provide a new roof. They were devastated over the loss of generations of artifacts which cannot be replaced and for the church that was theirs.”

A report had yet to be released by the fire marshal, but Urbaniak told The Register “the fire marshal will be releasing a statement soon determining that it was accidental.”

It is believed that the blaze will be sourced back to repairs being done to the church’s roof. This work was part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the parish despite the Antigonish diocese having slotted the parish for closure back in 2012.

Rather than blame the workers, Urbaniak said he wants them to know the St. Mary’s community is there to support them.

“We are reaching out to the roofers to try to provide comfort and reconciliation,” he said.

Although the building itself is now in ruins, Urbaniak said a few items were saved and parishioners are trying to salvage others as clean-up efforts begin.

“The signs from the burned church were saved, thanks to special efforts of the firefighters,” he said. “There are attempts to recover some sacred objects, or parts of sacred objects, that might have survived the blaze.”

Urbaniak said the community’s spirit has not been scorched, damaged or dampened.

“What we lost is irreplaceable, but with God’s help, we will stay together and rebuild,” he said.

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