March 18 earthquake damages churches and buildings in Diocese of Salt Lake City
Friday, Mar. 27, 2020
The Cathedral of the Madeleine suffered some damage from the magnitude 5.7 earthquake on March 18, and its aftershocks. Although the damage appears to be minor, diocesan officials are awaiting a report from a structural engineer about the extent of the repairs that will be needed. IC photo/Marie Mischel
SALT LAKE CITY — When the magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck three miles from Magna just after 7 a.m. on March 18, Father Lourduraj Gally Gregory was just finishing his shower.
“Suddenly everything began to rock and roll,” said Fr. Gally, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Magna. “[There was] rumbling, and I was really praying.”
His first thought was that there had been a mechanical or electrical problem in the rectory. A native of India, he had never before experienced an earthquake.
Once the earth stopped shaking, Fr. Gally got out of the shower, got dressed, and then went to see “if the church was standing or not.”
The building was still standing. The power was out, but he was able to take some photos of the damage. Seeing some neighbors, he asked if they had felt the shaking. When they said they had, he realized “it was not only my problem,” he said.
The damage to the church was assessed by a structural engineer, who said, “It’s OK right now, until the next earthquake,” Fr. Gally said.
Shortly after the earthquake, he began receiving phone calls and texts from family, friends and parishioners, both current and former.
“People were calling me from all over, even from India,” he said. “Somehow they got the message. So fast – I was surprised. … It took me quite some time to display all those text messages.”
He is safe, he said, because “Our Lady of Lourdes protected me … and the church, too … in a very scary situation.”
At the Cathedral of the Madeleine’s morning Mass, Fr. Joseph Delka, parochial vicar, had just finished the opening prayers when an aftershock shook the building. He and the altar server ducked for cover. Returning about 40 seconds later, they continued the liturgy as though there had been no interruption.
Opening his homily, Fr. Delka said, “I hope you’ll forgive the random intermissions as we go through our aftershocks of today’s ‘great awakening,’ so to speak.”
Adding that he hoped those in the greater Salt Lake area who were watching the livestreamed Mass were staying safe, he said, “We pray for peace and we pray for tranquility during this difficult time both with the [corona]virus and now with our morning earthquakes here in Salt Lake City.”
In an interview afterward, he said he tried to keep the celebration of the liturgy as normal as possible. “The prayer of the Church continues,” he said.
The initial assessment was that the earthquake damage to the cathedral was minor, with plaster falling from several spots, said Fr. Martin Diaz, rector. However, because the damage was primarily at the top of the arches over the stained-glass windows, scaffolding will need to be erected. Similar damage from a heavy rainfall several months ago led to a $12,000 repair bill, he said, so he anticipates these new repairs will cost a similar amount.
In addition to the plaster damage, two of the stained-glass windows separated slightly from the wall; Fr. Diaz said he is waiting for a structural engineer to assess that.
The seismic retrofitting that was part of the cathedral renovation undertaken by Bishop William K. Weigand (seventh Bishop of Salt Lake City, now Bishop emeritus of Sacramento) in the early 1990s saved the building, said Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general, who sent a text to that effect to the bishop.
“That was the purpose. And it was widely shared by the faithful and by the broader community,” Bishop Weigand wrote back.
The following is the list of damages reported at Catholic churches and schools. All of them have been or will be evaluated to determine whether they are aesthetic or structural.
Plaster fell from several places in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, and two of the stained-glass windows were slightly separated from the walls of the building. In addition, the brick retaining wall north of the cathedral parking lot suffered some damage.
St. Ambrose Catholic Church has a small crack that will be inspected.
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Magna suffered minor damage.
St. Ann Catholic Church has some damage, while the adjacent Kearns-St. Ann School will need its chimney rebuilt and also suffered some damage to an interior wall, a roof and floors. In addition, some statues were broken.
St. Patrick Catholic Church in Salt Lake City suffered damage to its steeple and its rectory.
Our Lady of Lourdes School in Salt Lake City suffered damage to the southwest corner.
The retaining wall for the Judge Memorial Catholic High School has a large crack.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish owns a residence on 300 North that has extensive chimney damage.