By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ST. JOSEPH — It was a double blow to Catholic Charities.
On Dec. 27, a fire severely damaged the downtown St. Joseph building, just a few weeks before renovations were complete to turn it into the headquarters of Catholic Charities serving northwest counties in Missouri.
Then the very next day, the man for whom the building was to be named, longtime St. Joseph Catholic Charities director Deacon Martin Goedken, suffered a heart attack and suddenly passed away. (See story on page 12).
Preliminary estimates put the damage to the former UMB bank building at $200,000, but Catholic Charities won’t know for weeks if the building can be saved or not, said Deacon Dan Powers, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
But both Deacon Powers and Bishop James V. Johnston made it clear that the determination of Catholic Charities to expand in St. Joseph to serve more than the 5,000 families it already serves has not waned in the least.
“We are saddened by the fire that seriously damaged our future Catholic Charities office in St. Joseph,” Bishop Johnston said.
“While this presents a serious setback, Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph remains committed to serving the needs of the vulnerable throughout our diocese and in St. Joseph,” he said.
“In this year of Mercy, and this season of Christmas in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we draw our encouragement from the love of Christ,” the bishop said.
Deacon Powers expressed gratitude that the building was unoccupied when the blaze broke out during that Sunday morning, as crews of workmen were still busy during the week putting on the final touches. And he said he was especially grateful that none of the St. Joseph firefighters were injured as they brought the blaze under control, as flames shot through the roof.
“We recognize that this is just a structure. The real work of Catholic Charities is about people, and that work will continue without interruption,” he said. “While we are saddened by the destruction and possible loss of our new home in St. Joseph, we remain committed to the St. Joseph community.”
Catholic Charities offices had moved out in November, in anticipation of the move by mid-January, from its small, leased offices at 9th and Edmond Streets into the 7,500 square foot bank branch building.
In the meantime, the parishes in St. Joseph had already welcomed Catholic Charities staff and are now extending the use of their property and offices so that the work of Charities will go on.
Though the building was insured, the loss especially in time is more than a simple setback, Deacon Powers said.
“This is a setback for us and the impact of the Christmas Sunday fire will start to set in this week,” he said.
“We may need to look at alternate plans to serve people in the near and intermediate term. We also don’t have unlimited financial resources and we will need to look at reaching out to our friends for help. It’s just too early to say,” Deacon Powers said.