After the Fire

By Indiana Preservationist
Published in "Indiana Preservationist" magazine

Photographs taken after the fire tell the story best: soaring ceilings burned black, sunlight glaring in through empty panes, 70-year-old pews dripping water. 

On April 27, 2001, a fire started by old wiring burned the once beautiful sanctuary of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Indianapolis beyond recognition.  Flame, water, and soot destroyed historic stained glass windows, the ornate wooden high altar, eight music-playing angels with unfurled wings painting in the nave, murals of the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Resurrection, and much more.

Parishioner Rick Hermann of William Hermann and Son, a fifth-generation carving and woodcarving studio, got a call at 5 a.m.  He rushed to assess the damage to his beloved 1891 church and to the Gothic white oak pews made by his grandfather, Norbert, in 1930.  “It was just unbelievable,” he says.

Restoration began immediately.  Hermann and others carried the more than 100 pews outside and dried them.  Only two were beyond repair – the rest Hermann’s studio restored.

Another firm was enlisted to replicate work done by one of its forebears.  In addition to restoring the murals and stained glass, Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wisconsin, is recreating the elaborate 1936 decorative painting done by Alphonse Schmitt, the son of its founder.  Now, a once overwhelming project is almost complete.  Hermann and his fellow parishioners return for their first mass in the restored church on December 1. 

“The fire seems like a distant memory,” he says. 

-Conrad Schmitt Studios of Wisconsin is restoring Sacred Heart’s distinctive blue and sand color scheme and faux stonework.  Entheos Architects, Brandt Construction, and Weberding’s Carving Shop have played a part in restoring the burned church to its former beauty.

After the Fire (PDF 1.06 Mb)

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