BONNERS FERRY, Idaho (CNS) — Federal investigators consider a blaze that destroyed a church near the Canadian border arson.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the office of the Idaho State Fire Marshal were attempting to determine exactly what sparked the blaze that destroyed St. Ann Church April 21.

Located 27 miles from the Canadian border, St. Ann is the northernmost Catholic church in Idaho. Two months earlier, the building had been hit by vandals, with damage including satanic symbols drawn on the walls and the defacing of a statue.

There were no injuries reported. The building sustained extensive damage and was razed after investigators concluded their work.

“We have been heartened by the prayers and support of the community and of Catholics and others around the state reaching out to the people of St. Ann’s in this hour of need,” said Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Boise, in a statement released later that day. “Catholics have worshipped at St. Ann’s for more than 120 years.

“We are cooperating with authorities investigating the cause of the blaze,” he added. “Join me in praying for the people of St. Ann’s and all those affected by this fire.”

Celebrating Mass April 24 at Bonners Ferry United Methodist Church, located across the street from the St. Ann site, Bishop Christensen said “I want to give you some hope and I want to give you a challenge, too. This church will be rebuilt.”

News reports said that around 2 a.m., it appears that three separate fires started in the basement of the church, built in 1963. Flames quickly spread throughout the building. Reports also indicated that additional vandalism and defacement of statues took place prior to the fires being set.

Father Carlos A. Perez, parish administrator, was in the rectory nearby, which sustained significant smoke damage.

If the fire is the result of a cult or anti-Catholic group, it is not the first time a Catholic parish has been attacked in north Idaho. In 1986, a bomb was set off outside St. Pius X Church rectory in nearby Coeur d’Alene, as Father William A. Wassmuth, pastor, was sitting inside. Father Wassmuth, uninjured by the blast, was an outspoken supporter of human rights, and several Aryan Nation leaders were later found guilty of setting off the bomb.

The first St. Ann Church was erected in 1894, with the help of Boise’s first spiritual leader, Bishop Alphonse J. Glorieux, who traveled the length of the state to help build it with his own hands.

News reports April 22 said that local police have not arrested anyone in the blaze but are following up on several credible leads.


Brown is editor of The Idaho Catholic Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Boise.