The Des Moines Register
Wednesday, March 27, 1996
Page 2M

Victim of Arson
They don't want a new building; they want to restore the old one.
By Rainbow Rowell, Register Staff Writer

The All Saints Catholic Church won’t be restored, said the church's priest.

The decision has been made, said the parish council chairman. End of story.

But a group of parishioners refuses to give up on the historic structure. The parishioners refuse to accept that their limestone church with its 90-foot-high copper dome will be replaced by a simpler, cheaper modern church.

Richard Doherty and more than 20 other parishioners meet weekly and spend hours on the phone trying to save the church, which was nearly destroyed by arson in August.

"We're not a small group of people...and we're not a group of people that wants to split the church," Doherty said. "We're a large group of church-going, tithe-giving people."

They've established a fund called Project Restore at First State Bank in Stuart. Money pledged to the fund will be used only if the church is restored and will be returned otherwise. About $22,000 has been pledged so far, Doherty said.

Other people are promising their time, he said. A Des Moines contractor has offered to work a minimum of 500 hours to help restore the church.

Non-Catholics in the community also have said they would help if the parish decides to restore, he said.

But the council has made its decision, said Chairman Herb Dols. All these good intentions and hard work would not be enough to restore the church.

"The community has been very gracious," Dols said, "but we're talking about a lot of money."

At least $5.5 million, the Rev. Richard Bergman said last month. A new building would cost less than that and less than the $3.9 million insurance payment the church received, he said.

"There is no real reason to reconsider," Bergman said Tuesday, noting that the parish already is looking for an architect. "We moved on. We're in a process. We're in the next stage."

It’s the process that troubles Doherty. He recalls that the decision-making began with a survey handed out at Mass during especially bad weather. The entire parish didn't get a chance to respond to the survey, he said, and the survey itself was skewed toward a new building.

His committee asked a Des Moines accountant to mail a new questionnaire to parishioners. Of about 240 who’ve responded so far, Doherty said, about 60 percent would like to reconsider restoration.

Bergman would not comment on whether parishioners were left out early on. Dols said the council went through all the correct channels.

"The decision has been made in the normal fashion...," Dols said, "“using proper procedure and so on."

The people behind Project Restore still hope to change some minds. There's too much at stake to give up, Doherty said.

The Byzantine-style church was modeled after St. Mark’s Church in Venice, Italy. It was a landmark for the community and home to rich memories for its parishioners, he said, and he hopes the council members realize the gravity of their decision.

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