On the morning the fire devastated the interior of their mission and friary, some of the Franciscan Missions team said they felt as if a loved one had died.

But, as any Franciscan will tell you, nothing can shake their rock-solid faith.

So, they pulled together, appealed to benefactors, contacted their insurance and prayed, until, little by little, a more efficient mission rose from the ashes.

On January 28, the friars moved back into their residence and in early March, the mission’s operations returned to the site.

“When the fire occurred on July 26, 2016, it was difficult for the friars,” said Fr. Teofil Czarniak, OFM, executive director of the Franciscan Missions in Rochester. “We not only lost the use of work space, but our living space, too. The local Franciscan friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province welcomed us into their monastery in Burlington, where we found brotherly love and support. There, we could organize our daily life as friars, such as our common prayers, meditation, common table, and time with the novices. We are also grateful to the community of retired friars at Queen of Peace Friary in Burlington, where we celebrated daily Eucharist and enjoyed breakfast with them.”

For a couple of weeks, the mission operations moved next door to the Missionaries of the Holy Family sisters, where they provided them with a few rooms to continue their work. Later, they moved to a temporary location in a downtown Burlington office space on Chestnut Street.

“It was a miracle, actually, as our operations were never interrupted,” said Fr. Czarniak. “We were able to continue reading mail, emails and making telephone calls as the sisters transferred our phones to their locations and gave us Internet services. We felt the presence of God the whole time, and felt his help.”

Living and working in community at the office of Franciscan Missions are (from left) Fr. Teofil Czarniak, OFM, Fr. Sante DeAngelis, OFM, Fr. Joy Devassy, OFM, and Fr. Ponciano Macabalo, OFM. (Submitted photo)

While Fr. Czarniak admitted they were happy to have space to work, he drew the line at personalizing their accommodations with familiar Franciscan items.

“We have some pictures, such as a big one of St. Francis of Assisi that one of the friars wanted to hang on the wall, but I said that we should leave the walls plain and not hang the pictures,” he said. “I didn’t want to get settled or too comfortable in our temporary space, because we were dreaming of going back home.”

More than 85 firefighters were on the scene last July to assist with the fire, explained Fr. Sante DeAngelis, OFM.

“The firefighters took over an hour to put out the fire and clear the smoke, but they did their work very well,” he said. “We had a lot of smoke and water damage to our equipment and our personal possessions. We were able to get a couple of things out of, but water went into our safe, so those items are gone. Definitely, there was a lot of loss.”

At that time, it was estimated that the building sustained $100,000 worth of damage. Due to the age of the building and three earlier additions, insurance covered most of the basic reconstruction, but not the remodeling costs necessary to modernize the office space, which included updating all of HVAC, plumbing and electricity to increase efficiency.

“An urgent appeal to our benefactors, asking for their helping during this crisis yielded a generous response,” said Fr. Czarniak. “Because of their generosity, we were able to offset remodeling costs that were not covered by insurance. Their support allowed us to make more efficient use of the space, which helps in our operations’ new, outsourced model of fundraising. We are grateful for their prayers and financial support.”

The friary sustained substantial damage to one bedroom and two bathrooms and needed rebuilding. The entire friary sustained smoke damage, was cleaned and repainted.

“All the carpeting had to be replaced and the entire office space was taken down to cinder block and framework,” said Fr. Czarniak. “All workspaces, including private offices and conference rooms needed to be rebuilt. All new mechanicals needed to be installed, including HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems.”

Restoration was completed by Paul Davis Restoration and their subcontractors. Crews were on site since the date of the fire. In addition to structural renovations, the Franciscan Missions are enjoying modern work spaces, including a new IT network and phone system.

“While we experienced a big disturbance and stress over these last seven months, we are happy with the final outcome,” said Fr. Czarniak. “We also are happy with the professional support provided by the team at Paul Davis Restoration and their quality work onsite. We are sure that the new infrastructure as well as the updates made to the office design will make our daily work more comfortable and productive.”

After word of the fire spread through the media, Fr. Czarniak said he was surprised to receive phone calls and emails from around the country. Additionally, they received support from friars around the word that they collaborate with.

“Hundreds of benefactors and friends of the organization shared their compassion and prayers with us throughout this experience,” he said. “We are grateful that no one was injured and for His guidance alongside us throughout this crisis. This experience made our Franciscan community stronger and strengthened our team by bringing us all together in strong cooperation during this difficult time.”