Fate of Lafferty church uncertain

LAFFERTY – Fire investigators still have not released the cause of a blaze that destroyed St. Mary’s Church on May 23, and the future of the site remains uncertain.

While the initial blaze gutted the structure, parishioners still planned to celebrate a final Mass in the parking lot on May 27. Those plans changed, however, when the fire rekindled.

Lafferty Fire Chief Larry Zalesny said the congregation instead worshipped at the firehouse, since all the volunteer department’s trucks were out of the building responding to the fire. He said the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office would investigate, but late last week he said officials there still had not informed him of their findings. All updates issued to The Intelligencer by the fire marshal’s office have indicated the fire remains under investigation.

During cleanup, however, asbestos was found at the church site. As a result, removal of debris had to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, said James G. Piazza, executive assistant, Diocese of Steubenville. Compliance with those rules slowed the cleanup process.

On Thursday, Kevin Middleton, supervisor with Lepi Enterprises Inc., said workers at the site were finished with the asbestos removal. He said all debris will be treated as construction and demolition waste.

Middleton, whose firm specializes in environmental solutions and construction services, noted the church had been a sturdy old structure.

“It’s not often we see a brick foundation three layers thick,” he said.

St. Mary, at 42881 Church St. in Lafferty, traces its roots to 1917, and some of the estimated 135 families who attended services there regularly had done so for five generations.

Since the fire, parishioners from St. Mary have been celebrating Mass at St. Paul Church, Flushing – a second site where the Rev. Frederick C. Kihm, who was pastor of St. Mary, is pastor.

Diocesan officials said members of the St. Mary congregation also have been welcomed at other parishes in Belmont County, including St. Mary, St. Clairsville; St. Joseph, Fairpoint; St. Stanislaus, Maynard; and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Barnesville.

All decisions regarding the future of the site and the congregation have been delayed while the diocese is without a bishop.

“No permanent decisions, out of the ordinary, can be made affecting parishes in the Diocese of Steubenville until a new bishop is installed,” the diocese said.

Monsignor Jeffrey M. Monforton of the Archdiocese of Detroit has been named the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Steubenville. His ordination and installation is Sept. 10.

Monforton replaces Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, who was installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., last July.

Monsignor Kurt H. Kemo is the diocesan administrator in the absence of a bishop.