Minnesota parish community comes together to restore church damaged by fire

Workers are seen in an undated photo restoring the interior of St. Edward Church in Elmdale, Minn. The church, built more than 100 years ago, was badly damaged in a fire July 18, 2023, fire. The sacristy was destroyed by the fire, and part of the sanctuary also was damaged. The rest of the building sustained smoke and water damage. (OSV News photo/Dianne Towalski, The Central Minnesota Catholic)

ELMDALE, Minn. (OSV News) ─ In the months since St. Edward Church in Elmdale was damaged by fire, the small community has come together to repair the damage.

"The thing that I always remind people is that they have to be proud of their church," said
Vincentian Father Jimmy Joseph, pastor of St. Edward, as well as St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis and St. Mary in Upsala.

"Years ago, their ancestors built this church -- more than a hundred years ago -- but now they're rebuilding their faith," he said. "It's a good time for people to come together and celebrate and live their faith."

Restoration is well underway. Father Joseph told The Central Minnesota Catholic, magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud, that he hopes to have the church ready to welcome parishioners back after Easter, but no specific date has been set.

On July 18, 2023, Father Joseph discovered the fire as he was locking the church doors for the evening. The Upsala and Bowlus fire departments responded to a neighbor's 911 call.

The majority of the damage was in the sacristy, which was destroyed by the fire, Father Joseph said. Part of the sanctuary also was damaged by the fire and the rest of the building sustained smoke and water damage.

Parishioners volunteered their time to do much of the work to rebuild the sacristy. Father Joseph said they also are lucky to have members of the parish who can do millwork.

Because he was new to the parish when the fire happened, being able to work with parishioners to help restore the church has been a great blessing, Father Joseph said. In talking with them and answering questions about the work that needs to be done, he has gotten to know them better.

"That was very good," he said. "And now I know most of the people here."

Bishop Patrick M. Neary of St. Cloud said he is impressed by the teamwork that has gone into this project.

"The parish community of St. Edward has been through a lot since the fire last July," said Bishop Neary. "I am grateful to Father Jimmy Joseph for his superb leadership through this crisis, as well as to the parish trustees, and all those who have given of their time and resources to restore the church building. This has proven to be a wonderful team effort."

The Stations of the Cross and other statues needed minor repairs and cleaning, which was done by Lyon Restoration in the Twin Cities. They are now being repainted by Little Falls artist Sheila McCallum, who has worked with Father Joseph before to refurbish statues.

She began the project in mid-November and has finished the first seven stations, she said.

"I want to get all the stations done first because they will take a lot of time," she said. "There are so many little heads and faces and hands, and they have to be totally repainted."

It will take several months to repaint all 40 statues, she said.

"It really is a privilege to help with the restoration of St. Edward's," McCallum said. "And it keeps me prayerful because as I'm working on them it is a time to pray. It's time to just think about what I'm working on."

The main altar, which was damaged by fire, had to be repaired and then cleaned, stripped and refinished, along with two side altars and all of the pews, which were damaged by the smoke and water. That work is being done by Restore24, an emergency restoration company based in Sauk Rapids that specializes in fire, water, storm and mold repair.

The cleaning and repairs to the building itself also are being done by Restore24.

"It was a blessing to find such a nice company," Father Joseph said. "They're very easy to work with and they can do almost everything. They haven't done many churches. They do commercial fire damage restoration, but this will be only the second church that they have done."

The total cost to repair the damage will be just short of a million dollars, Father Joseph said, with a good portion of it being covered by insurance and a successful fundraising event.

"I ask people to keep praying for the success of the restoration," Father Joseph said. "When something happens like this, I always say to take it as a blessing. God has plans, but everything is for good, I believe."

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Dianne Towalski is social media manager at The Central Minnesota Catholic, magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud.


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