A historic and sacred downtown landmark has been returned to its full glory, just in time for Holy Week. You would never know someone tried--and almost succeeded--burning down the historic church. Last night, with a new pulpit in place, Holy Thursday churchgoers witnessed the final step in the cathedral's return from the ashes.
Six months ago was a different story. October 7, 2003, a man armed with a gun and lighter fluid tried to set the historic church on fire. The pulpit and bishop's chair were destroyed, and the church interior suffered terrible smoke damage. "If it went on any longer, we would have had a ruin here," said Monsignor William O'Neill.
Monsignor O'Neill confronted the man who threatened his life and the church he cherishes. After $360,000 worth of repairs, artwork has been restored, furniture has been replaced, and a brand new pulpit is on display.
Monsignor O'Neill says an even more valuable lesson was learned. "This evil, malicious act, you know, from evil, good always triumphs," he said.
"It brings home to you that even this beautiful place can draw evil in its own way," added Bishop Kevin Boland.
Bishop Boland feared that evil could have harmed his friend. Now, he says the joy of Easter is reflected in the eyes of Monsignor O'Neill. "He looks after this church like a mother looks after a child," the bishop told us. "I know he's very proud. With Easter, everything's back in place."
Focused on Easter preparations and beyond, Monsignor O'Neill says life--and religion--can return to normal. "We're ready to go on," he said. "We move forward."
Safety precautions are still being taken at the cathedral. Morning mass is now held in the chapel. And from now on, if the church is left unattended, the doors will be locked.