A little over a week before Christmas, the community came together in the wake of a fire at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Sister Margaret O'Doherty says she noticed the smoke and knew something was wrong. 

"I opened the door and the smoke just hit me. It was all black," said O'Doherty.

Tim Little Voice, a maintenance worker for the church, says the flames moved fast. "It was burning from the top. It could have been saved, but somebody busted out some windows and opened up the doors and when you feed oxygen to fire it'll spread, and that's what happened," said Little Voice. 

According to the Havre Daily News, the fire started early morning on December 14, 2019, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Box Elder.

Rocky Boy Fire Chief Calvin Jilot said initial reports say the fire started in the kitchen.

The Rocky Boy Volunteer Fire Department received the call about the fire at 10:21 am. 

Crews from the Rocky Boy Volunteer Fire Department, Wildland Fire Preparedness and Suppression Agency, the Chippewa Cree Tribe Natural Resources Department and the Box Elder Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation worked together to put out the fire.

As of 2:00 pm that day, the fire was under control however the church is being considered a total loss.

Nobody was hurt and it's still unclear exactly how the fire started. The church was built in 1979 and was filled with donations, presents, and decades worth of memories. 

Sunday morning Little Voice and his brother-in-law were able to rummage through the rubble and recover the church's main bell. He says it provides a glimmer of hope for the community.

"Bringing that up, that was like bringing up something from the Titanic. Like raising the flag at Iwo Jima. I was honored. I kind of got melted but it was worth the process of pulling up the bell. The bell is what everyone was talking about because that symbolizes the church now, since it's not here no more," said Little Voice.

Children's programming and a potluck were supposed to take place at Saint Mary's today. A Christmas pageant featuring 60 children was supposed to be showcased on Tuesday. Sister Margaret says everyone had a fun time practicing this week.

"Pray for us, just pray for us. We'll be fine. God is in charge, that's what I keep telling the kids. God is in charge so, we'll be fine," said O'Doherty.

Morning services were held at Saint Anthony's in Box Elder. The priest is still planning the location of future services. He's working with people across the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation start planning the rebuilding process.

A Go Fund Me has been set up to rebuild the church with a $600,000 goal.

The priest says monetary donations can also be sent in to, Saint Mary PO Box 3009 Box Elder, MT 59521.

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