Ready to Rise Again

By McCall Radavich

Glenda Coen still gets emotional when she thinks about the fire that destroyed St. Joseph Catholic Church in North Phoenix.

“Still every now and again I can’t help but to cry about it,” says Coen, who has been a church member since 2013. “I try to keep in mind that God has a better plan for us, even if we don’t know what it is yet.”

The St. Joseph Catholic Church congregation and the Diocese of Phoenix are planning for a lengthy rebuild after 60 firefighters doused a fire that had quickly spread through the attic.

Where there is bad news, there is good news. The tabernacle was recovered and, although the roof above the Adoration Chapel collapsed, the Monstrance and the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament went unscathed.

The church is assembling a team to properly assess damage and create and successfully implement a vision for a new church. While there are definite plans to rebuild, it will not be in time for the church’s planned 50th anniversary on August 18.

St. Joseph’s pastor, The Rev. Reggie Carreon, says he believes the fire proves the congregation will never give up. Mass continues on campus at Ascension Hall until a temporary facility is constructed in two to three months.

“Our church was a special building, but only a building,” Carreon says. “The real heart of St. Joseph Church is Jesus Christ and the community, the people he calls together to witness to His love.”

While the church does have insurance, Carreon says he is accepting donations via PayPal at stjoephx.org. The church has already raised over $14,000, not including material donations.

“A lot of good things have come to us (through the fire) and we can’t forget it.” Carreon says.

The Phoenix Fire Department reports the investigation is still open and arson is not suspected.

“Our investigators have not made a final determination as to whether it was arson or not,” says Phoenix Fire Capt. Jake Van Hook. “However, they have let us know that the evidence they have found does not suggest arson or any preplanned action.”

There have been compelling indicators that the fire’s origin was accidental. With the evidence they have now,   Phoenix Fire Department officials believe they should be able to close the case soon.

The fire was one of three suspect events within a 1-mile radius in one day.

Just down the road, Emmanuel Presbyterian Church’s door was smashed in with a steel pole and vandalized inside. Across the street, Gateway Academy—a school that specializes in educating students with autism spectrum disorders—was significantly damaged. Windows were smashed, lockers were busted open and headphones stolen. Police say the three incidents are unrelated.

Matthew Tat stopped by St. Joseph to view the remains. He and his wife are 13-year members who were married at St. Joseph. Their three children were baptized there.

“It’s shocking and odd how everything came about,” Tat says.

“There is always a candle lit at the altar. It’s been tradition since the church was built. So, after all of this time, why would it just now be a problem?

“It’s a very special place and it’s very hard to believe that part of it is gone.”

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