An ex-con, William Eugene Volk, is accused of starting multiple fires inside Santa Sophia Catholic Church October 8. The fires were set to the altar, a devotional room and to a 36-foot tall cross, known for being the “largest indoor crucifix west of the Mississippi.”
“The repairing of the cross is looking about $160,000 plus itself to repair that,” said Father Jacob Bertrand.
Already renovation crews have ripped out the flooring, cleaned up asbestos and repaired the ceiling, which was covered in soot.
“I remember that heavy fog-like looking smoke at the very top of the ceiling,” said Father Bertrand.
Father Bertrand said the total cost of repairs is estimated up to $750,000, much higher than originally anticipated. He said his parishioners are still focusing on the positive.
“One of the best things that the Lord is capable of doing with his people when they’re trusting him is to take very difficult situations and to turn them into blessings. And that’s done a lot. Our community has obviously come much closer together.”
Until the renovations are finished parishioners are attending mass in the church hall.
A fund has been set up to help with renovations and the community has already raised about $120,000, Father Bertrand said. He hopes the church will be able to reopen by March.
A judge ruled earlier this week Volk will stand trial in May on arson and vandalism charges. Volk was also bound over for trial on hate crime allegations, said Deputy District Attorney Andrew Aguilar.
According to testimony at the defendant’s preliminary hearing, a man who had hired Volk to do some work, and subsequently let him go, said Volk had confronted him before the arson incident and had made disparaging remarks about Catholics.
After his arrest, Volk also made derogatory comments to investigators about the Catholic Church, Aguilar said.