By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
COATESVILLE – The sole fatality of the city of Coatesville’s spate of arsons over more than a year was one of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish’s own: 83-year-old Irene Kempest, a native of Poland who worked in a Nazi forced labor camp in Germany before emigrating to Coatesville as a teenager.
Kempest, a widow, died Monday, Dec. 8, 2008 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. “Just as she breathed her last, the bells of her own parish church were ringing out the sounds of the Angelus and Advent hymns, announcing to the heavens above that the Lord’s faithful servant was on her way home,” said Father John V. Oulds, pastor of St. Stanislaus, a Polish personal parish.
According to Father Oulds, fire broke out on Kempest’s back porch after midnight Sunday, Dec. 7. She was overcome by smoke inhalation and transported to a local hospital, where she received the anointing of the sick by Father Oulds before her death.
Four homes around the block near St. Stanislaus Church have sustained significant damage from arson, according to Father Oulds.
At 3 a.m. this past Saturday, Jan. 31, two more members of the parish became arson victims. A husband and wife, both of whom are in their late 40s, awoke as a fire was in progress at the side entrance of their two-story home in Sadsburyville, about three miles from Coatesville.
Their garbage can, originally placed at curbside Friday night for Saturday’s trash collection, had been moved to their side step and ignited, according to the couple who wished to remain anonymous.
Less than three blocks from St. Stanislaus is St. Joseph Church, a Slovak personal parish of which Father Oulds is also pastor.
“We’ve been praying on a daily basis for the apprehension of whoever is involved with this crime because of the great terror and fear that is created in the hearts of the citizens of Coatesville,” Father Oulds said.
Collections are currently being taken up to help arson victims rebuild their lives and to add to a reward for the apprehension of those responsible for the arsons.
Father Francis J. Mulranen, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville, acknowledged the generosity of one of his parishioners who offered to take in a young family displaced by fire.
In addition, St. Cecilia Parish collected clothing for arson victims. Father Mulranen had offered his parish as a clothing drop-off site to officials working on relief efforts, but it was later determined that a community center was sufficient for the cause.
“I’m very blessed and grateful to have such good people,” Father Mulranen said of his parishioners. “Whenever there’s a genuine need, our people always come forward, and they’re showing that again.
“We’ve been praying for those who are displaced, but we’ve also been praying that our city will have God’s protection in this time of fear,” he said.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.