Arson investigators called to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis

Fire causes $400,000 in damage

INDIANAPOLIS - A fire that caused more than $400,000 worth of damage to a landmark downtown church has been ruled arson.

Firefighters were called to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church early Wednesday after the building's security alarm sounded just before 4 a.m.

A small fire was found burning inside the back of the church, which sits at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Capitol Street, causing extensive smoke damage.

Arson investigators on Wednesday afternoon said they had ruled out all accidental causes.
Investigators said there was no sign of forced entry into the building and that nothing was taken from the church. They said someone likely remained inside when the church was locked up for the evening.

Police are reviewing footage from nearby street surveillance cameras.

The church's regularly scheduled noon mass was canceled Wednesday, the Rev. Rick Nagel said.
Many parishioners arrived at the church for the noon service, unaware of the fire.

"This is such a beautiful, historic building, and for any damage like that would be devastating," said worshipper Dan Mathis.

Members say the church's doors are open through most of the day.

"The doors are always open and everybody's welcome," said parishioner Peggy Helton.
Some are concerned that the church's open-door policy might change.

Nagel said the church would reopen Thursday for regular weekday confessions and mass.
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, founded in 1837, is the city's oldest Catholic church.

Marsh Davis, the president of Indiana Landmarks, said there could be a silver lining to the fire.

"I think of the fire at Sacred Heart several years ago, a catastrophic fire, but that church is now one of the glorious architectural gems because of the restoration that was done so well," Davis said.

Davis said he thinks the fire could even be good for attendance at the church.

"I would imagine that the clergy there is probably hoping that this will spark some interest in the church, and I would imagine there will be more people going through the doors out of curiosity and interest than they would have had otherwise," Davis said.

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