In Centralia, Pennsylvania in 1963, a fire started in a rubbish dump that spread into the coal mines beneath the town. After toxic gases began to flood homes, the government incentivized the 1,100 residents to leave.
Most of the residents left. The government destroyed buildings after them. A town that was once bustling has become desolate. Lots for homes stand empty—some still with their landscaping.
Though most of the structures in the town have been demolished, one still remains. A church.
The church that still stands is Centralia’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. Many people who left the town have long family histories at the church that they weren’t prepared to give up.
Joanne, age 67, was baptized in the church. Her mother was as well. Her family began attending the church when her grandmother emigrated from Europe in her 20s.
Though Joanne left to live in another city when the fire started, she never even considered attending a different church. Another former resident of Centralia, Mary, also returns to the town to worship. She shared, “We’re stable, and we want it to continue.”
At one point, the church was under threat of being knocked down. The state was trying to clear the town out as much as possible. The Archbishop decided to order a survey under the church to determine if it was under threat.
According to the priest at the church, Father Hutsko, “So they drilled and they found solid rock.” They didn’t find coal, as they expected to.
If the church was built on coal, the hillside likely would have caught fire underground and collapsed eventually. However, because it was built on solid rock, the state allowed it to stay.
This story is as biblical as it could be—because the church was on solid ground, it was able to continue to stand.
Father Hutsko is thrilled with the continued support of the church. “We lost the town,” he said, “but we didn’t lose the church. As a priest, that gives me great uplift, great feeling, both spiritually and socially.”
It’s incredible to see a church community stand strong, even when the town around them has literally been torn to shambles. To read more about the history of Centralia, check out this article.