Hart County parish rebuilds after fire

Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, center, and Father Ben Cameron, pastor of Our Lady of the Caves, sprinkled holy water on the walls and the people of the parish. (Record Photos by Jessica Able)

HORSE CAVE, Ky. — One of the few things to survive a fire that consumed the old Our Lady of the Caves Church in 2016 was the original stained-glass windows.

Now those windows have a prominent place in the newly-dedicated church building: They flank the altar.

The windows, which depict the sacred heart of Jesus, are special to Peggy Rook Helm, whose grandparents were one of the founding families of the Hart County parish in 1953. The names of Helm’s grandparents — Dewey and Mildred Rook — appear near the bottom of the windows.

“The fact that they survived and are now placed right next to the altar is special for me and my family,” Helm said in a recent interview.

Father of Mercy Ben Cameron, pastor of Our Lady of the Caves, said that in addition to the windows, the parish was only able to salvage a couple of items from the previous building: a metal crucifix, which now sits on the tabernacle, and the presider’s and two deacons’ chairs.

Since the fire, parishioners have gathered for Mass in the parish hall.

“To actually have a permanent home again is a great joy to share,” said Father Cameron, who has been pastor of both Our Lady of the Caves and St. Helen Church in Glasgow, Ky., since May 2018.

On Aug. 29, about 150 parishioners and friends of the parish filled the church’s 16 pews and folding chairs to dedicate the new church.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville served as the celebrant. (Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz is being treated for cancer in North Carolina.)

During his homily, Bishop Spalding told the people of Our Lady of the Caves, “Once you know Jesus, you have strength.”

“Because he gave it all, there’s nothing we can’t face, even a fire that burned something precious to the ground. When we allow Jesus to work in and through us, powerful things can come through us,” he said.

Bishop Spalding said the parish has been “through the fire and now we’ve come back from the ashes.”

“In our faith, we believe that nothing can overcome the power and love of God. Even death can be overcome in and through God’s great gift of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Following the homily, Bishop Spalding formally dedicated the church. During the rite of dedication, the sacred symbols — chrism oil, holy water and incense — permeated the space. Bishop Spalding consecrated the main altar as he applied sacred chrism to its surface. Both he and Father Cameron sprinkled holy water throughout the building, both on the walls and people who gathered within them.

The sign of the cross was also marked with sacred chrism on four cross-shaped candle sconces hung on the interior walls.

The dedication ceremonies began outdoors at the church entrance. Bishop Spalding led the congregation in prayer and then all of those in attendance able to do so processed into the new church.

While the construction is new, the red brick church has a traditional look and feel. Eight antique wooden pews lie on each side of a main aisle. A high altar rests against brilliant blue paint covering the wall of the sanctuary behind the main altar. A marble Communion rail divides the sanctuary from the nave of the church. And two side altars flank the main altar.

The cost of constructing the building and all the interior furnishings totalled about $900,000, Father Cameron said.

In an effort to save money, the parish acquired most of the liturgical items from various churches that have closed in different parts of the country.

The main altar and two side altars came from the Jubilee Museum in Columbus, Ohio; the pews are from the Motherhouse Chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita, Kan.; a statue of St. Bernadette came from northern Michigan; the chandeliers came from Green Bay, Wisc., and Philadelphia; the tabernacle came from the old Sacred Heart Church in Michigan City, Ind.

“To me it says something that the sacred things of the church are worth saving, repurposing,” said Father Cameron. “It is also a way for our little church, that is 100 miles south of Louisville, to be connected to the bigger church.”

The Fathers of Mercy, based in Auburn, Ky., have served at the parish since shortly after the parish’s founding 66 years ago.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville consecrated the altar with sacred chrism at Our Lady of the Caves Church in Horse Cave, Ky., during the dedication of the new church building. The previous church was consumed by a fire in 2016.


People gathered outside Our Lady of the Caves Church in Horse Cave, Ky., Aug. 29 prior to the church’s dedication. The previous church burned in a fire in December 2016.

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