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Warwick church saved by quick community response

Fire at St Mary's Warwick

Sacred structure saved: The historic St Mary’s Church in Warwick caught fire when lightning struck the roof. Photo: Facebook.

TOOWOOMBA’S bishop has praised the swift response of the community that saved a Warwick church after a lightning strike set it on fire.

The fire that could have destroyed St Mary’s Church, Warwick, was started by a lightning strike that hit during a storm on January 2.

Firefighters put the blaze out, saving the entire church from a disastrous ending.

Bishop Robert McGuckin and St Mary’s parish priest Fr Franco Filipetto were on an annual retreat for clergy of Toowoomba diocese when they received a message from diocesan youth co-ordinator Sarah de Byl who read about the fire on Facebook.

Fr Filipetto said he received a call to ask if the social media posts about the fire at St Mary’s were true.

“I said ‘I don’t know’,” he said.

Fr Filipetto said the fire left a hole in the ceiling about three metres wide, and wiped out the church’s audio-visual equipment.

“There is a lot of soot lying around, but we have finished up cleaning but (we are) still doing a few repairs,” he said.

“It could have been a lot worse.”

Fr Filipetto said it was a “mystery” as to how lightning hit the church in the first place as there was a lightning rod installed to “send it to the ground”.

There will now be an investigation into why the church was struck.

During a visit to the parish on January 8 to mark the Feast of the Epiphany, Bishop McGuckin told the congregation to be inspired by the three wise men at the centre of the feast.

“I said to the people, the three wise men offered Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and Fr Franco (Filipetto) would also be happy to accept any gifts of gold you might have to fix the church,” he said.

Damage: A hole was left in the ceiling of St Mary’s as a result of damage from lightning and fire. Photo: Facebook.

The pews located on the side aisle were roped off, forcing the congregation to move to the centre of the church for the Sunday Mass, a positive factor for Bishop McGuckin.

“It added to the community and forced the people to sit in the centre, which was a good thing as it looked like the entire church was full,” he said. “It was good to be with the people.”

Bishop McGuckin thanked the early witnesses who alerted the local emergency services team about the fire.

“They were very lucky, very fortunate, that the damage was as limited as it was,” he said.

“It’s a warning for us to look at all our churches to prevent these things from happening in the future.”

St Mary’s is the only church in the Toowoomba diocese apart from St Patrick’s Cathedral constructed from stone.

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