MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Twin Cities congregation is struggling to understand who would set fire to a century-old church.

Flames destroyed Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church in northeast Minneapolis last spring. It was the only church of its kind left in the state and now, after months of investigation, it’s officially a criminal case.

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This is a parish of 100 people. To really understand the hit this church has taken, you have to go inside. It’s here that you see the torched altar, the bathroom where someone set the fire, and the chapel that turned into a chimney.

The 107-year-old building is a total loss but somehow the parishioners still have hope.

“It’s just been a piece of so much of the neighborhood’s history, our congregants and their families have gotten married and baptized here and everything,” said Paula Quinn.

Quinn, whose grandparents were from Poland, is a longtime Sacred Heart parishioner.

“Every time I go in here I cry,” she said. “How could anybody live with themselves after burning a church of God? This place has been a comfort here in the neighborhood for over a hundred years.”

Kevin Tuma, church organist and treasurer, had a feeling this was all intentional.

“It’s a place of safety and that’s been challenged because of this,” said Tuma.

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It appears someone tore the arms from the crucifix then torched the sanctuary. Federal agents now say they want to talk with a man who was seen close by.

“The initial emotion is anger, and then the question is why?” said Tuma.

The other question is how the modest congregation will rebuild. The summer Polish fest raised $50,000 and an anonymous donor gave $50,000 more so they have enough money to tear the building down, but church officials say it’s financially not feasible at this time to rebuild or restore it.

So, they’re meeting in a nearby building hoping for more prayers, more money, and more members determined to keep the faith.

“I think there’s hope, I always believe in hope,” said Quinn. “I don’t know if it will happen in this particular structure.”

And that’s where you can step in if you’d like to help. The parish is doing what they do best on the evening of October 23, serving a Polish dinner with sausage, beer, and of course pierogis. All you have to do is show up hungry.

The A.T.F. thinks this man has “valuable” information about what happened.

(credit: ATF)

(credit: ATF)

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Surveillance footage caught him near the church before the fire started. If you recognize him, you could get a $5,000 reward. Call 1-888-ATF-TIPS.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield