83-year-old Parish Church of Saint Mary Magdalene Counts Its Blessings After Devastating Fire

NY Daily News - November 03, 2010

by Mark Morales

A resilient parish in Springfield Gardens may have lost its beloved church to a raging fire last week, but not its faith.

The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, home to about 400 congregants who are mostly African-American and Caribbean, was heavily damaged in a late-night fire on Thursday. The 83-year-old building on 136th Ave. was so severely damaged that services will have to be held next-door in the auditorium of the Martin de Porres School for the foreseeable future.

Despite the loss, church leaders said yesterday the congregants' spirit and faith have not wavered.

"We're just thinking about how we can make the best of it," said parish coordinator, Sister Maryellen Kane, who likened the church fire to a death in the family. "You console each other, but life goes on. People truly believe that the building is not the church. We are the church."

Almost everything in the building, including religious statues and musical instruments, was reduced to ash and debris. The only thing to miraculously survive the blaze was a painting of Saint Mary Magdalene. And a firefighter managed to save the bread and wine that is consecrated into the Blessed Sacrament, officials said.

While no one was hurt, the parishioners were heartbroken by the devastation.

"Tears came to my eyes. It was a tremendous loss for us," said life-long parishioner and church musical director Marc Philip, who watched as the building was engulfed in the flames. "It was my second home for the better part of my life."

"It's history going down the drain. It was very hurtful to see," said parishioner Emmanuel Boyd, who photographed the tragedy.

Authorities are still trying to assess the damage and determine the cause of the fire, church officials said. The parish will have to hold off on any plans to rebuild until the extent of the damage is known.

"Until we get a good grasp of what needs to be done, we are going to be in a holding pattern," said Msgr. Kieran Harrington, a spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens.

While he acknowledged there are some big questions for the parish, Harrington said the fire could have been much more tragic.

"It's devastating when your house burns down, but it's a blessing when everyone in your family is safe," he said.