St. Joseph, a historic church in the city of Salem, Oregon, burned down on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. Church pastor Fr. Jeff Meeuwsen said, “the church building is pretty much a loss.”
St. Joseph is one of the oldest parish communities in Oregon. It has around 3,500 faithful and is part of the Archdiocese of Portland.
Debra Gill, a reporter for local news channel Fox 12 Oregon, said “very large flames on the roof” of the church ripped through the structure of the sanctuary. Despite the extent of the damage, no one was injured, according to a statement from the parish.
“It is with great sadness that we announce that there was a fire in St. Joseph last night,” the parish said. “We are still gathering information. The fire continues inside the church, but it is contained to the church. To our knowledge, no one was injured. We are asking for prayers at this time.”
“I am very sad that we lost the church building, very sad,” Fr. Meeuswen said. “But the church also isn’t just a building, it’s also a people. The people of St. Joseph will pull together.”
In a statement posted on social media, the Archdiocese of Portland said Bishop Alexander Sample was on the ground with the parish community on Thursday to assess the situation.
“The Salem Police Department, as of September 1, has determined that the intense fire that devastated a historic Oregon Catholic church early Thursday morning was arson and announced that the suspect has been arrested.”
Fox 12 Oregon reported that a passerby called emergency services after noticing the fire around 2:30 a.m. The fire was still burning two hours later, at 4:30 a.m. First responders feared the fire could spread to surrounding buildings, such as the parish school, but they managed to contain the flames at the church building.
Although the current structure was built in 1953, the parish community was founded in 1853 and the original church was built in 1864. St. Joseph is one of eight parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland to host the traditional Mass.