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St. Mary’s Catholic Church Plans To Rebuild After Disastrous Fire

The ashes from the Dec. 14 fire have te to be cleared out, but parishioners of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation are moving ahead with rebuilding plans.

Although they realize the process will be long with obstacles in the path, they are anxious to get going, said Father Joseph Tran, church pastor.

Father Pete Guthneck, who retired last year after 41 years at the church, spoke about his recollections during a prayer service on Sunday. Prayers were recited and Father Tran blessed the charred remains of the church.

Guthneck served as pastor, about 40 years ago, when the church was built. The building became known as “the house that Pete built,” although Guthneck denied the description and said parishioners did all the work.

Tran said Sundance Excavating Co. of Box Elder will demolish the remains.

“They can start anytime,” Tran said.

The church is conducting a survey on what kind of new building parishioners prefer.

Like the old church, the new church could be a log cabin-style building or another kind of architecture. The deadline to return the survey is Jan. 18.

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Most parishoners said they would like to see Chippewa Cree culture included in the new building design. For example, Tran said, images of tribal culture could be included in the stained-glass windows.

Many want to see two buildings constructed: the body of the church and a church hall, Tran added.

The hall was located at the back end of the old church. Catholics and non-Catholics used the hall as a meeting place. It also housed a food bank for those in need of groceries. Tran said he still has some food to distribute, but currently there is no place to store canned goods.

Meanwhile, mass will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 499 Mission Taylor Rd., until the new church is built.

Tran said funding for the construction project is as yet undetermined. The parish owns insurance on the building, but the policy likely won’t cover the price of the new church, especially if it results in two new buildings.

An older photo of the church (Courtesy photo)

A gofundme page has been set up to raise money for church construction.

“The church was the spiritual center for both Catholics and non-Catholics on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana,” reads the fundraising description. “It served the people of the Chippewa Cree tribe for 40 years at that location on the reservation. Many tribal members found healing, love, compassion and mercy there as they participated in many Sacraments and services that marked important milestones in their lives — from birth to marriage to death. “

Tran encouraged parishioners and friends of the church to pitch in. Until the details of the new buildings are complete, it’s difficult to estimate total cost of construction. Fundraisers set an ambitious goal of $600,000. 

By rebuilding the church, the church community hopes “to continue to bring God to the people on the Rocky Boy Reservation and provide a place of hope, community and faith for those who seek it. ”


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Email John Kelleher at john@havreherald.com

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