Catholic Church in Kansas Severely Damaged by Fire

Kenny Felt, a Fort Scott photographer, was filming the blaze while a crowd of over 500 bystanders watched.

Mary Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Fort Scott, Kan., damaged after a fire, Aug. 30, 2022.
Mary Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Fort Scott, Kan., damaged after a fire, Aug. 30, 2022. (photo: Courtesy photo / Kenny Felt)

Several fire departments battled a blaze at a Catholic church in Fort Scott, Kansas, throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Fire crews arrived at about 9 p.m. on Aug. 29, responding to reports of a fire at Mary Queen of Angels Catholic Church. They discovered that the southeast corner of the structure was flaming. The fire was successfully put out, but the church was still smoldering mid-day on Aug. 30.

Kenny Felt, a Fort Scott photographer, was filming the blaze while a crowd of over 500 bystanders watched. He told CNA that he overheard firefighters deliberating on what items to salvage from the blaze, deciding that statues may be the best bet. But he said that a priest present told firefighters he was intent on saving “the Communion items.”

“He was visibly worried about that stuff,” Felt said. Felt, who is not Catholic, said that he believes the priest was Father Yancey Burgess, pastor of the church. A spokesperson for the Fort Scott Police Department, Sergeant Bill Downey Jr., confirmed that Burgess was the priest who salvaged the items for Communion.

Photos that Felt took show Father Burgess, accompanied by a firefighter, reaching for items on the altar during the fire. CNA reached out to Burgess for comment, but received no response prior to publication.

Father Yancey Burgess, pastor of Mary Queen of Angels, retrieves items from the altar during the fire, accompanied by a firefighter. Kenny Felt

Father Yancey Burgess, pastor of Mary Queen of Angels, retrieves items from the altar during the fire, accompanied by a firefighter. Kenny Felt

One firefighter from Fort Scott sustained a minor injury, but has already been released from the emergency room, according to a statement from the Fort Scott Fire Department. 

The Kansas State Fire Marshal's office, along with local fire officials, is conducting an investigation into the blaze of the 19th century church.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the parishioners of St Mary’s Church, and the members of our community who have been affected by this tragedy,” the statement said. 

Downey told CNA Tuesday that damage costs have not been estimated yet.

Photos and videos of the aftermath show extensive damage to the church, with the roof entirely destroyed. However, the altar, a crucifix, and multiple statues appear largely untouched by the flames or debris.

The parish’s school said online Tuesday that despite the damage “all indications are that we will be able to rebuild.” School was canceled on Tuesday for safety reasons, the post said. 

“There is no faith community more devout, fierce, or resolute than ours,” the post said. “God will get us through this, stronger than ever!”

The church is located in the Diocese of Wichita. The diocese called for prayers for the parish community on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

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