PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A lightning strike damaged the dome of a Polish Hill landmark during Tuesday’s storms.
Smoke curling from the peak of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church drew firefighters to a structure that dates back to 1897.
“Lightning struck in the middle of the church,” says Fr. Joe Swierczynski. “Right in the center of the dome.”
He says fire hoses were extended through the balcony.
“And the hose was leaking, so there was tons of water up in that balcony,” he said. “And they emptied the store room, all the boxes were damaged; and the middle here was a flood with the water coming down from the dome. This was all flooded here in the center.”
A restoration construction crew examined the damage. The only path to the dome is a narrow stairway, straight up.
“What it appears, is the trap door is burned, and the top deck,” says Don Bair, of G. S. Jones Restoration Construction. “It appears the top decking is burned.”
While the fire bureau estimates $40,000 damage, a final reckoning will take more time. Bottom line: it could have been much worse.
“The firemen said because it was humid that’s what saved it, too,” says Fr. Joe. “Had it been real dry, he said you’d have flames right through, it would have burned right away.”
He says the church doors will not be closed for long. The sidewalk tents are already in place for Saturday’s annual parish festival.
Fr. Joe says it will go on as scheduled, fire or no fire. He says parishioners have the same determination as their ancestors, more than a century past.
“The immigrants helped to build this,” he said. “They would work in the mill for eight hours and then come out here and lay brick for eight hours.”
Their work endures in the church on Polish Hill.