LOUISIANA: Historic church destroyed in Nov. 11 fire

November 11, 2010

St. Matthew's Church, Houma, in the Diocese of Louisiana was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours on Nov. 11.

The parish hall and a building serving the parish's elementary (pre-kindergarten through seventh grade) day school also were severely damaged.

No one was injured in the blaze, which started at about 3:30 a.m. and destroyed all but the church's front steps, a wall and part of its steeple. A cause for the fire has not been determined, but is under investigation.

Photos of the church before the fire may be found here; photos from after the fire are here.

According to Rebecca Pitre, publications and communications coordinator for the diocese, St. Matthew's congregation will worship at nearby Grace Lutheran Church for the time being. A service will be held there on Sunday, Nov. 14 at 11 a.m., with a congregational meeting to follow.

"To my knowledge, the immediate needs for this service have been met," Pitre wrote in an e-mail to concerned Episcopalians who have offered support for the congregation. "The diocese has provided vestments, prayer books and hymnals."

The Rev. Craig Dalferes, rector of St. Matthew's has asked for the prayers of the church community. "I spoke with Fr. Dalferes earlier this morning," wrote Pitre, "and as saddened as he is about the fire, he is just as overwhelmed with the outpouring of generosity" from the people of the diocese and others.

"The church will be rebuilt," Dalferes told the Daily Comet, a local newspaper. "We're not sure what it will look like, but the outpouring of support we've gotten from the community has been very encouraging and affirmative."

The Gothic revival-style church, built in 1896 of locally grown cypress wood, is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. It was a landmark in Houma, a town known for Cajun culture and its proximity to Louisiana's famous swampland.

The school building damaged in the fire had been under renovation and has not been used for some time, according to Chuck Bourque, president of the school's board of trustees. Classes will resume on Monday.

A relief fund has been established at South Louisiana Bank. Donations may be mailed to: St. Matthew's Relief Fund, c/o S. Louisiana Bank, P.O. Box 1718, Houma, LA 70361 (include the account number 02-0195-2 in the memo section of the check).

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