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A fiery tragedy
Arson destroys inside of Milwaukee diocese’s newest church building


Congregants console one another before gathering for worship under tent.  

Above the charred altar is an odd-looking yellowed, translucent circle. It is the backing of the rose window, meant to protect the stained glass from damage from outside.

Deep blue and red shards lie behind the altar beneath a blackened wooden cross, carved by the father of junior warden Rob Roethke. Glass pebbles crunch underfoot; melted ceiling lights stream plastic puddles onto pews. In the nursery, the television is a twisted glob, but children’s artwork survives, pinned to the wall.

Fire destroyed the inside of St. Aidan’s, the Diocese of Milwaukee’s newest church building, in the early morning of Sept. 30. A parishioner alerted the Rev. Michael Tess, who arrived to find the church in flames and the windows of his car, parked nearby, smashed.

Fire investigators determined that the fire, which started in the sacristy, was arson.  Damage to the church and parish hall wing has been estimated at around $1 million. “All my vestments, the communion vessels, wafers, everything is gone,” said Tess, who seemed staggered by the extent of loss and the thought that it had been purposely done.

A tent was erected on the parking grounds for services. Neighboring St. James’, West Bend, contributed the elements needed for the Eucharist, the priest said.

The building is three years old, but St. Aidan’s congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005. Tess arrived in 2002, from Colorado and the Roman Catholic Church, and “revitalized the congregation,” say its members, then meeting in the church’s old building in downtown Hartford.

The congregation has accepted an offer by Divine Savior Missouri Synod Lutheran Church to use an older portion of its building for Sunday worship. “They’ve been incredibly generous,” said Tess.