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Church rises from ashes of arson

Des Moines Register


Metro-January 12, 2005

 By Abby Simons

 A little background:  It was August 1995 when arsonist Charles Willard set fire to All Saints Catholic Church in Stuart, gutting the 96-year-old Byzantine-style structure in the city of 1,200.  In 1997, the Catholic Diocese opted to build a new church and sold what was left of the structure to preservationists for $8,700.  Led by Richard Doherty, a Stuart-based group called Project Restore now aims to bring the historic landmark back to its original condition, to be used for weddings, meetings, and community events.  So far, the west end of the building has been restored, including a chapel , sacristy, stairs leading to a meeting room, kitchen and bathroom.  The church currently hosts a number of small gatherings.


Take a look at www.restoreallsaints.org, the Web site dedicated to reviving what remains of historic All Saints Church in Stuart.

There, in a few strokes of pen and watercolor you’ll see Richard Doherty’s dream.

Where an altar would normally rest, a ballerina dances for a large crowd.  In another sketch, a group of executives sits around a table, and in a third, three long-haired rock stars hold a jam session beneath the sanctuary’s huge copper dome.

It’s a goal that’s nearly $3 million away, said Doherty, director of Project Restore, the Stuart-based nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the church back to what it once was.  After a few years’ fund-raising and sweat, the west end of the building is a small chapel that seats 75, where weddings, meetings and small recitals are held.  It’s only a fraction of the restoration plans.  Doherty wants the structure to be the grandiose landmark visible from Interstate Highway 80 that it once was.

So far, the group has raised about $300,000 from grants and donations.  The church is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is an official project of Save America’s Treasures, a federal program dedicated to reviving historic structures.

It appears Doherty has a long way to go.  He won’t give a time frame—he can’t, but he promises that if the nonprofit received the $3 million today, the project would be done in a year.  Either way, he knows one day the church will be restored to its former glory, regardless of whether he’s around to celebrate.  “I believe it’s a legacy we need to leave to this community,” he said.  “It may be something I may not see the end of, but at least I’ll be working on it.”   Doherty said the fire, which devastated the community nearly 10 years ago, created a resolve to one day revitalize the church.  He refrains from speaking the name of the arsonist, a man who said that out of contempt for Catholicism, he wheeled a cart full of gasoline containers into the church and set it ablaze, causing millions of dollars in damage—today, only the walls of the structure remain.  Doherty said the community prefers not to give the perpetrator the attention he craved.  Instead, they focus on the church and its future.  Doherty said most of Stuart insists this isn’t about architecture, and it isn’t about religion—it’s about a community’s resolve, and something else, he said.  “This isn’t a Catholic thing,” he said.  “Some of its biggest supporters are non-Catholics who want to see it restored.  It meant a lot to them because it was part of their cultural heritage.  It was a community landmark, and they want to see it restored.”


Andrea Melendez/Register File Photo

A light flickers:  Steve Brown, right, and his sons Shane and Clint light candles in the restored chapel at the former All Saints Church in Stuart in 2002.  A group has restored the chapel after an arsonist burned down the church in 1995.

Click to enlarge images

The restored statue of St. Joseph and 13 foot high altar relocated from upstate New York.

Metropolitan Christopher, Primate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America and Father Sasha Petrovich celebrate Divine Liturgy.


The Christmas String Quartet Concert  has become a  tradition at Historic All Saints.





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