Historic Iowa Church Destroyed by Fire

MILO, Iowa (AP) -- Fire destroyed a historic Catholic church in this central Iowa town.

St. Mary's of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, known to locals as Rosemount Church, burned to ground Thursday.

``You cry a little, and then you pray a little bit,'' said Beverly Schurman, who married into the congregation 19 years ago.

The church was built in 1916, 45 years after the parish was formed to serve the small Warren County towns around Milo, which is about 20 miles southeast of Des Moines.

Alicia Overton, 16, of Indianola, and two friends drove by the church shortly after 3 p.m. and spotted smoke. Overton called 911.

``It was coming out the top, and at first we thought it was coming from the chimney,'' Overton said. ``Then we saw smoke coming from a window.''

Overton said she and her friends rushed to the front door of the church, opened them and started yelling.

``No one answered, so we ran around the other side. The stained-glass windows were cracking,'' she said.

Overton said firefighters arrived a few minutes later, but the fire had already taken hold. The roof collapsed, and the church was gutted within two hours.

Parishioners and firefighters managed early to save some church artifacts, including several chalices, vestments, a nativity scene and scrapbooks.

Firefighters fought the blaze, but could not contain it.

John Dittmer, 61, of Milo, was baptized at the church. He said his ancestors help built it.

``How can you put words to it?'' Dittmer said as he watch the fire.

The church was renovated in 1996 to celebrate the parish's 125th anniversary.

Milo Fire Chief Tom Bales said no one was supposed to be in the church when the fire broke out. State fire marshal investigators were to be at the scene on Friday.