MELROSE, Minn. — Opinions are divided over whether a Catholic church built in 1898 in central Minnesota should be restored or rebuilt after an arson fire torched the interior.

The Church of St. Mary in Melrose has been empty for 18 months since an arson fire heavily damaged the inside of the building, Minnesota Public Radio reported . An arsonist started a fire in the sacristy behind the altar in March 2016. Firefighters used nearly a million gallons to put out the blaze.

The diocesan building commission didn’t approve the parish council’s plan to rebuild the church. Instead it recommended building a new church. The diocese said the old church has many problems, including not being up to code, a lack of gathering space and accessibility issues.

A group of parishioners created a nonprofit called Friends to Restore St. Mary’s. They plan to file a lawsuit against the diocese and St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler to stop the church from being demolished.

“We don’t want our historic church to be destroyed,” said Jesse Lovelace, one of the group’s members. “I’ve gotten to love that church for its beauty. Its historical significance just means a whole way of life in this town to me, and that’s unique. It’s almost like a culture disappearing when the church goes.”

Kurt Schwieters is a local doctor who’s on the parish council. He said others believe it’s time to accept the decision and build a new church. Much of the material from the old church can be salvaged, such as the stained glass windows, he said.

Bishop Kettler said he continues to keep the church in his prayers as they work on rebuilding.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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