Des Moines Register
February 20, 2005
Place to Worship
Historic Catholic church in Stuart that Survived fiery attack is hosting Serbian Orthodox services
By DANA BOONE
Register Staff Writer
Stuart, Ia. - Dozens of candles glowed softly in the small chapel.
Happiness shone from the smiling faces of about 150 Serbian Orthodox Christians who gathered for the first service in their new church home at the partially renovated All Saints Catholic Church in Stuart.
Arsonist Charles Willard said his contempt of Catholicism led him to set fire to the church in 1995. The Serbians, who had been praying for a church of their own, connected with Stuart residents who saved the historic building from demolition after the Catholic parish moved to a new building on the east side of town.
Most of the two-hour service, in which women stood together on the left side of the chapel and men stood on the right, was conducted in Serbian.
"It's nice to see so many Serbian compatriots here joined together, glorifying Christ," said Vladimir Kupresanin , who fled Gospic, Croatia, and settled in Urbandale about four years ago.
The Rev. Sasha Petrovich , pastor of All Saints Serbian Orthodox Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., drove four hours to perform the service. Smoke from incense shrouded the room as he spoke.
"I truly believe that this prayer and divine liturgy will greatly contribute to the resurrection of this church," Petrovich told the congregation.
The group had longed to worship and hear the liturgy spoken in their own language, and many said they felt at home in the nearly 100-year-old church, which has Byzantine architecture. Services will be held monthly, organizers said.
Kupresanin said the church service Saturday helped "re-establish faith and hope" for immigrants who have made many adjustments since settling in the United States.
Several of the families had attended the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Des Moines, but had long desired to form their own church.
John Tenikat attends St. George, but he traveled to All Saints on Saturday to observe the Serbian service.
"I wanted to see how it was," he said, "and see the restored chapel."
Project Restore Foundation fought to save the old church from demolition after the Catholic Diocese opted to build a new church. Richard Doherty, president of the foundation, said he read about the Serbians' desire for a church in The Des Moines Register and offered use of the site.
The west side of the church has been restored and is used for weddings and meetings, he said. The center of the church remains a stark, burned-out core, and will take about
$3.5 million to restore, he said.
He said lots of "elbow grease" went into restoring the chapel and adjoining rooms. A 3000-pound bell is being sought for the bell tower, he said. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Doherty empathized with the plight of Serbians, whom he said were also victims of intolerance in their native countries.
Saturday marked a turning point, he said.
"It's a blessing for us. It's a blessing for the town," he said. "It's a blessing for the Serbian people."
Petrovich said the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Christopher, who six months ago blessed the Serbians' desire for their own church, wasn't able to attend the services due to illness.
Petrovich said it was fitting for the Serbians to unite, pray, sing and burn incense - and to help the people of Stuart resurrect the church from the ashes.
"It's burning faith deep, deep inside the heart," he said.
Leading worship: The Rev. Sasha Petrovich of Sioux Falls, S.D., performs a Serbian Orthodox church service Saturday in Stuart. (Photo by ANDREA MELENDEZ, THE REGISTER)
Let the light shine: Marija Kupresanin of Urbandale lights a candle before a Serbian Orthodox church service Saturday morning at the partially renovated All Saints church in Stuart. (Photo by ANDREA MELENDEZ, THE REGISTER)