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Christmas Day Fire in 1905

Fairfield, Dec. 26, 1905

Dear Bishop –
I have a most calamitous news to tell you. The church and the house here were destroyed by fire yesterday – nothing but some house furniture was saved. I cannot account for it. At about half past twelve, I looked in the church to see that the outside doors were closed, to keep the heat in – and I saw nothing out of the way, hardly more one hour after the smoke was coming out in heavy clouds from the steeple. This took place at about two o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yours in grief, N. J. LaChance

St. Patrick’s parishioners had decorated the church beautifully for Christmas with evergreens and candles – which were left to continue burning around the altar after the last Mass was over. Fairfield had no firefighting resources readily available and little could be done to save the church, rectory and stable. The fire burned through and completely destroyed the structures. At the time, it was said to have been the worst in the town’s history. Damage was valued at about $25,000 by Father Napoleon (Norbert) J. LaChance. The wooden church, complete with a wooden steeple, had been built about 40 years prior, replacing the first St. Patrick’s, which had been a brick structure with a small belfry, originally erected in 1847.

While the Catholics were displaced from their own church building, the Congregational church building was made available for their use for as long as necessary. Thanks to Father LaChance’s direction, the generosity of parishioners and some funds from the church’s insurance policy, the current St. Patrick Church was under construction within a year of the fire and dedicated on Sept. 20, 1910.

Kathleen Messier, Archivist
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington 

Preserving our Past: Archivist keeps watch over history of the Diocese of Burlington

Kathleen Messier picked up third Burlington Bishop Joseph J. Rice’s shaving brush — part of a set with a shaving cup bearing his name. “Imagine all the DNA I could get off of this,” the assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington who once worked as a pharmaceutical chemist said with a smile.

For her, the move from science to history wasn’t a leap: “I know how to do research.”

These days her work is part time in a small office at diocesan headquarters on Joy Drive in South Burlington. But more than an office, the space is a repository of history.

It’s filled with shelves and boxes and cabinets that hold mementos and memories of times past in the Church of Vermont: sacramental records, chalices, records from closed parishes, Catholic high school yearbooks, various ephemera, tabernacles, thurifers, relics of saints, sixth Burlington Bishop Robert F. Joyce’s war medals, photographs, parish histories, early bishops’ vestments and books that include volumes written by the first Vermont bishop — Bishop Louis deGoesbriand — and the exhaustive Vermont history, “The Vermont Historical Gazetteer,” by Abby Maria Hemenway.

The holdings even include a link of a chain that bound St. Peter before his crucifixion obtained by Bishop deGoesbriand.

Messier speaks French and likes to read notes and letters Bishop deGoesbriand wrote in his native language.

“The history of the Diocese of Burlington is here,” Messier said. “You read it. You see it. You talk to people” about it.

She recalled a recent visit from Burlington native Bishop Louis Gelineau, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Providence. “He is a wealth of information” about the diocese, she said.

A member of the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists, Messier earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1997 from St. Michael’s College in Colchester. A mother of three and parishioner of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction, she has worked as a part-time archivist for the diocese since May 2015.

She writes a monthly social media post for the diocese about the “obscuriosities” of the archives and enjoys helping people find information about their family tree or about the closed Catholic school they attended and demystifying myths. “In doing these things, I learn,” she said.

More and more historical information is stored digitally, but she welcomes items of historical significance to the Vermont Church. 

“This is a big deal for the Church in Vermont,” Messier said of the archives. “This tells the story of Vermont Catholics.”

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic
content editor/staff writer.
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