By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Write
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Staff at St. Vital Parish in Beaumont are still coming to terms with a fire that caused an estimated $350,000 in damages to the parish office and may have affected church records that are more than a hundred years old.

“I was overcome with grief when I realized how bad the damages were,” pastoral assistant Michelle Felix said after the July 29th fire. “I was shocked. Everything in my office is a complete loss.”

Initial estimates peg the damages at $250,000 to the building, located at 4905 - 50 Street, and another $100,000 for the contents. There was nobody in the building at the time of the fire, which is under investigation. Early indications are that the cause was an electrical problem.

Rev. Arlan Parenteau, pastor of St. Vital Parish, was presiding at a wedding when the fire broke out at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s not a very good thing to happen on your wedding day,” he said. “Someone ran into the church shouting, ‘Fire! Fire!’”

Still wearing his vestments, Parenteau ran toward the office building, shouting for someone to call 911 as smoke poured out of the windows.

Beaumont Fire Chief Everett Cooke said crews saw flames and smoke coming from the west side of the building when they arrived. Firefighters from Beaumont and the County of Leduc responded to the call.

Cooke said “the parking lot was quite congested. That posed challenges for the fire crews however they were able to overcome that quite quickly and work to extinguish the fire very rapidly.”

The fire was contained to the secretary’s office, said Felix. Smoke poured throughout the entire building, leaving the church library and other offices covered in soot.

Baptism, Confirmation and wedding records in the registry book were recovered mostly intact, she said.

“That was in the room that was on fire, and miraculously they did not burn,” she said. “Just the corners of them were burnt, but none of the pages were affected in any way. I wasn’t able to retrieve anything else.”

Parishes are required to photocopy and store sacramental registers - including records of baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial - in fire-proof, ideally waterproof, locked cabinets or safes in the church office.

However, the extent of smoke damage to St. Vital parish records, books and photos won’t be known until staff are able to enter the office. The records could date back to 1895, when the first Mass was celebrated in the original log church.

Despite the fire, Parenteau celebrated Mass at the parish the next morning at 9 a.m.

“Our faith teaches us to hold onto the Lord and get strength from the Holy Spirit and to rebuild. Whatever goes on, to be strong in the Lord and don’t get destroyed.”

Parenteau said the community has offered support to the parish.

“It’s all about coming together and pulling together as a family when things go bad. It’s good to see because that means people have great faith.”

An Office Fire Fund has been set up to assist with rebuilding and renovating the office building.

Financial assistance can be given online at https://www.saintvitalparish.com/make-a-donation or in cash or cheque into the collection basket at the weekend masses.