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Gathering what remains after fire destroys historic church

Gathering what remains after fire destroys historic church

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BRUSSELS • Residents and former churchgoers sifted through the charred remains of Immaculate Conception (St. Mary) Church on Monday, hoping to salvage what they could of years of memories that perished in a Christmas Eve fire.

Gloria Snyders showed off a rosary, miraculously untouched when an electrical fire gutted the structure and left little more than the building's four walls. A man approached her with a dollar bill, wet and covered in soot, he had pulled from the building. She began to cry.

"Everything had been so perfect and intact," she said of the building.

The church, at 111 Main Street, was the centerpiece of Brussels' historic district and the site of many marriages, masses and community picnics. Monday morning, chatter among residents in this tiny village of about 150 who'd come to the church was of rebuilding.

"We're such a small community that when you lose one building, you lose a little bit of history," said Nancy Kulp, a churchgoer and the village's treasurer.

Point Fire Protection District Chief Don Seiferman said investigators believe the fire was caused by an electrical problem.

Snyders said the choir was beginning to sing at the 6:30 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass when she noticed something coming down from a light fixture. They began evacuating the church then. Several people attending the service, including volunteer firefighters from the Point Fire Protection District, checked the problem, but didn't find anything burning.

When firefighters checked the building again two hours later, they noticed smoke. In no time, the building's roof was on fire.

No one was injured in the blaze.

Twenty-one-year-old Scott Tepen said he watched with his family early Sunday morning as the blaze overtook the building.

"I saw the steeple fall about a quarter past 2," he said. "I was at a loss for words."

About two dozen people mulled about the church grounds Monday morning for different reasons. Some had come to help move large items from the church that received little or no damage.

Lila Lind drove nearly an hour from Godfrey because she had to see the damage for herself.

"It's unbelievable," she said.

Lind, 73, attended the church when she was younger and got married there in 1965. Her three sons were baptized there. She was joined by a handful of others who'd also grown up in Brussels and moved away, but made the journey back Monday to see how they could help.

"It will be rebuilt," Lind said. "We've just got to believe and it will happen."

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is expected to visit the area in the next few days. The group will make the determination of whether St. Mary's will be rebuilt.

In the meantime, Mass usually held at St. Mary's will be held at St. Joseph Church in nearby Meppen. St. Joseph is part of Blessed Trinity parish, which includes St. Mary's and St. Barbara in Batchtown.

Just before noon, a group of women gathered in the doorway of a back room leading into the church's main area, pointing toward the sky. What appeared to be a tiny cross stuck out along the top of a sidewall. They agreed it was a sign that things were going to be OK.

"We'll survive. Everybody does," Kulp said. "I just pray to God that they let us have our church back."

Marlon A. Walker covers general news for STLtoday.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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