Coal Valley church reopens 8 months after vehicle crashed through a wall

Father Anthony Ego, pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Coal Valley, gives a homily during the church's grand reopening Mass on July 7. The church suffered extensive damage last October when a pickup truck crashed through its southwestern corner, seen here behind the piano. (For The Catholic Post/Brian Wellner)

By Brian Wellner / For The Catholic Post

COAL VALLEY — There are silver linings to the extensive damage done at St. Maria Goretti Church after a truck crashed into its southwestern wall last October.

One of them is that it gave parishioners an excuse to get rid of the old orange carpet.

“I was here when we built the church,” Father Duane Jack, former pastor, said following Mass on Sunday, July 7, at which he joined Father Anthony Ego, present pastor, and parishioners for a grand reopening of the renovated church. “As orange went out of style, they always blamed me for picking out orange.”

Randy Jaminet of St. Maria Goretti Parish presents Father Duane Jack, former pstor, with a framed piece of orange carpet during the July 7 grand reopening Mass. Looking on are Deacon Thomas Gainey and Father Ego. (For The Catholic Post/Brian Wellner)

In a surprise move as Mass ended, parishioner Randy Jaminet presented Father Jack with a gift — a patch of the old orange carpet in a frame.

“Finally, we can get rid of the orange carpet,” Father Jack said, holding up the piece for all to see.

Father Jack, now retired, was pastor of St. Maria Goretti from 1981 to 1991. The present church was constructed in 1984.

“IT’S WONDERFUL TO BE BACK”

The church suffered extensive damage the evening of Oct. 25 when a driver lost control of his pickup truck and plowed through its southwestern brick wall. The driver suffered a medical condition just prior to the accident and was treated for minor injuries, police said.

The impact of the vehicle hitting the wall sent bricks flying across the interior of the church, toppling over many rows of pews and landing on the altar. The western wall was damaged from the corner to the first window. The crucifix was damaged and multiple items like the electronic piano and lectern had to be replaced. The impact also dislodged a roof  beam.

The parish formed a renovation committee and got to work on a repair project that would last seven months while the church was closed. Insurance paid $160,000 and the church picked up an additional $25,000 in upgrades, said Jaminet, who served on the committee.

“It’s wonderful to be back in here,” Jaminet said.

GRATITUDE EXPRESSED

The oil-stained orange carpet was replaced with a more modern gray and the sanctuary now features a hardwood floor. Jaminet said the credence table was fabricated out of damaged pews.

Parishioners also took the opportunity to enhance lighting inside the church.

“I think this is great,” said Dale Witzel, a member of St. Maria Goretti for 40 years. “You can actually see a lot better. The audio and lighting has improved significantly,” he said, adding that parishioners did some of the work.

Plywood covers a hole created when a truck crashed into St. Maria Goretti Church in Coal Valley last Oct. 25, spraying bricks and mortar throughout the church and toppling pews and music equipment. (Photo by a St. Maria Goretti parishioner)

“It’s even better than it was before,” added Witzel’s wife, Sandy.

After several months of celebrating Masses in the parish hall and at other area parishes, Father Ego said he was happy to be back inside the main church.

“A lot of work went into restoring this building,” he said in introductory remarks at Mass. “I’m grateful to all of you who stayed with us for our journey of faith.”

Parish officials encouraged area Catholics who have never been inside St. Maria Goretti to visit and see the improvements.

A celebratory luncheon followed the Mass.

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