Pilgrims from Diocese of Peoria share sadness, memories after Notre Dame fire

The Anders family of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton attended Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with friends last Easter. Stephanie Anders called it “a moving experience” and considers the family “blessed to have had the opportunity.” Pictured are, front row, Joseph, Jonathan, and Norah; back row, Jeremiah, Alexa, and Stephanie. (Provided photo)

Our Lady of Paris is also much loved in the Diocese of Peoria, and local Catholics shared in the sorrow felt around the world April 15 when images of Notre Dame Cathedral in flames dominated newscasts and social media.

“There are no words to explain the feeling of being there, and no words to describe this incredible loss,” said Wendy Carmien, who teaches second and third grades at St. Thomas School in Philo. She and her husband had just visited the cathedral in February.

“We were honestly speechless while we were there,” continued Mrs. Carmien, one of dozens who shared memories of visits to Notre Dame Cathedral on The Catholic Post’s Facebook page the day of the fire. “We just wandered around taking in the beauty of it all.”

Catholics from the Diocese of Peoria are well represented among the estimated 13 million annual visitors to the 850-year-old Paris edifice.

Frank and Fran Zeller of St. Patrick Parish in LaSalle were at Notre Dame Cathedral only two weeks before the destructive blaze.

“It was as sacred a place as the first time my husband and I visited it on our honeymoon 50 years ago,” said Fran. “It is such a loss for Paris, France, the world and the church.”

Notre Dame Cathedral was also among the honeymoon destinations for Joe and Stacie Gianessi in 2001.

“What a beautiful cathedral with rich history, incredible architecture, and beautiful stained glass,” said Stacie, who is principal of Holy Family School in Peoria. “It’s a memory I will cherish and a place I was blessed to have visited,” she added, calling news of the fire “devastating.”


The emotions ran deep, with several readers telling The Catholic Post they shed tears on the day of the fire.

“My heart is truly aching for the loss,” said Mary Ann Fahey-Darling, who directs the St. Anthony Camerata Chorale Festival Choir.

“In 1996, the Ephphetha Ecumenical Chorale was privileged to tour and sing the beautiful Arcadelt ‘Ave Maria’ for Our Lady of Notre Dame and all the visitors gathered round,” she recalled. “Such a wonderful memory of this magnificent space.”

“My heart is so sad,” also admitted Mary Jo Zacher. The former director of pastoral care for OSF Home Care Service in Peoria and now living in North Dakota, Zacher also sang at Notre Dame Cathedral, but not with a choir.

“My fondest memory of my visit there in 2003 is standing in the middle of the church, gazing forward, and singing the “Salve Regina” (“Hail, Holy Queen”) from the bottom of my heart,” said Zacher. “I will never forget that holy moment.”

Music is also a memory for Kim Padan, a member of St. Paul Parish in Danville and president of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

“In 1981, I was on a choir tour with students from a few different high schools,” she recalled. In Paris, they stopped at Notre Dame Cathedral and were given a tour of the edifice. Then came a surprise.

“Our choir director and tour guide coordinated and agreed to let us sing two sacred pieces right then and there,” said Padan. “It was July, and we were in casual tourist attire, cameras around our necks. I was 16 years old, and the experience of singing in one of the most beautiful and iconic Gothic cathedrals remains near the top of my treasured memories.”


Deacon Bill and Jackie Scott of St. Matthew Parish in Champaign visited Notre Dame Cathedral on a most significant April day in 2005.

“There was a prayer vigil for Pope John Paul II, and confessions were being heard,” recalled Jackie. “Bill and I both went to confession with a priest who spoke very little English.

“The cathedral was dark except for what seemed like hundreds of candles,” she continued. “Later that evening, the church bells began to toll as news of the death of the pope spread throughout Paris.”

Jane Brodbeck of St. Mary Parish in Canton shared a photo that her son, Drew, took of Notre Dame while on spring break just last month. “He told me it was one of the most beautiful places he had seen while there,” she said.

Zuzu Madanat, director of religious education at Holy Family Parish in Peoria, told about the time he had 11 hours to spend in Paris during a long layover. He took a train to the city center and walked to Notre Dame Cathedral.

“It was supposed to be the first stop of many, but I was so lost in the beauty and prayerfulness of this building that it ended up being the only place that I visited while I was there. I spent five to six hours praying and taking in the rich history of this holy building.”

Notre Dame Cathedral was part of the journey to the Catholic faith for David Paul Sears. He visited it in 2007 as part of a university trip.

“Not speaking French, and not being Catholic at the time, I still considered it a privilege to be there and to pray in such an historic building,” said Sears. “It was really that trip that got me on the road home, and today I am heartbroken to see these pictures.”

Heartbroken, too, were Jody Young and Nicholas Limon. Young recalled how she was “blessed” to venerate the cathedral’s relics of Jesus’ passion just last June. “I’m crying,” she told The Post.

Limon, meanwhile, attended daily Mass and vespers at Notre Dame in 2016 while at the University of Paris.

“I am in utter tears,” he posted.



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