Joppa church saved from blaze to be restored

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A century-old Harford County church that barely escaped demolition in the 1980s and survived a lightning-sparked fire Friday night will be restored, its pastor said yesterday.

St. Mary's Assumption Eastern Rite Catholic Church on Mountain Road in Joppa suffered an estimated $200,000 damage to the roof and interior in the blaze, touched off during a thunderstorm about 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Workers at the adjoining Holy Cross Academy, which is to open for its first academic year Tuesday, summoned help from the nearby Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, said the church's pastor, the Very Rev. Ivan Dornic.

"The firefighters came within five minutes," Dornic said. "Otherwise it would have gone up in flames in no time, because it's built entirely of wood."

Dornic, 65, who lives in Mount Washington, learned of the fire when he arrived at 6 p.m. to prepare for an evening Mass. He found more than a dozen firetrucks and scores of firefighters working to save the church.

"To me, this means the devil is trying to destroy us," Dornic said. "But he was unable because we were on guard and God helped us to save the church."

He said rebuilding costs should be covered by insurance.

St. Mary's is attended by about 100 families, including members of Ukrainian and other Eastern Rite Catholic denominations as well as conservative Roman Catholics unhappy with church reforms, Dornic said.

The handsome, steep-roofed structure, topped by a cupola that was slightly damaged by Friday's fire, was built in Fallston in 1887 as St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church. The Baltimore archdiocese planned to raze it in the mid-1980s, but Dornic offered to move it to the wooded 80-acre site he had acquired just off Interstate 95.

Then-Archbishop William D. Borders agreed to donate the structure along with the $10,000 budgeted for its demolition, Dornic said. It was dismantled and moved to Mountain Road in pieces in 1986, when Dornic began searching for craftsmen to put it back together.

He lined up Amish carpenters from Lancaster, Pa., but they pulled out when their church elders forbade them from working on a Catholic sanctuary. So Dornic recruited three brothers from his native Czechoslovakia who rebuilt the church in three months in 1989.

The fire did no damage to Holy Cross Academy, a small, independent Catholic school previously located in Northeast Baltimore. The school will provide a temporary location for St. Mary's services, including one scheduled for 10 a.m. today, and will open as planned Tuesday with 27 students in grades one through five, Dornic said.

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