Police apprehended a suspect in the arson: a 41-year-old Lodi man, William J. Connell. He faced charges of arson, burglary, and bail jumping at an initial appearance in Dane County Circuit Court March 18.
'It was me'
"It was me," Connell allegedly told City of Madison Police Officer Mindy Winter at the eastside Woodman's March 15 after police received a phone call saying someone there had information about the fire.
According to the criminal complaint filed March 18, Connell allegedly said, "I broke into the church with a crowbar and stole a bottle of wine and messed around with some stuff."
The complaint says Connell asked whether it was a bad fire and when Winter said it was, he said, "That's bad. That's really bad."
When the officer asked him what he used to start the fire, he did not give an answer. When Winter asked why he chose this church, he allegedly said, "I will save those details for a lawyer."
Among the items found on Connell's person were eight matchbooks and six Swiss Miss hot chocolate powder packages with the same lot number as packages found inside St. Raphael Cathedral.
A crowbar was found inside a small storage room on the balcony level of the cathedral. Fire investigators also pinpointed this storage room as the location of the origin of the fire.
According to District Attorney Brian Blanchard, Connell was in custody since March 15.
During Connell's initial court appearance, his attorney Rhoda Ricciardi said, "I have reason to believe he does not have a rational understanding of why these charges are brought against him."
State attorney Jac Heitz described Connell as a transient who was arrested in Oregon in 2003 and Iowa and Illinois in 2005. He was also charged with defrauding an innkeeper in Madison, a case that is still pending.
Connell's bond was set at $222,000 and Chief Commissioner Todd Meurer ordered a mental competency evaluation from the Department of Health and Family Services. The court hearing will resume upon return of the evaluation or in two weeks.
Tragedy, test of faith
"Finding the St. Ray's fire to be the result of arson will test the faith of many in our community," said Amesqua. "But this is a week during which we have come together as a community and when we have all been strengthened by the quiet courage and deep faith of Monsignor Swain.
"I can't tell you how many people have approached me and our firefighters to tell us they were baptized at St. Ray's, or married there, or took First Communion there, or simply admired the graceful architecture that stood at the heart of the Catholic diocese," said Amesqua.
In a March 18 release, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said, "This fire was a tragedy not only for the members of St. Raphael's Cathedral, but for the entire community. Today's arrest will not bring St. Raphael's back, but it is an important step towards closing the book on this unhappy chapter in our city's history."
He expressed gratitude to the police and fire departments, a sentiment also stressed by Bishop Robert C. Morlino and Msgr. Paul Swain, cathedral rector, at a press conference March 18.
Bishop Morlino and Monsignor Swain said they were somewhat shocked when they heard that the probable cause was arson.
"All of the details of this are in God's hands. He'll lead us through this the way He wants to and He'll bring tremendous good out of it," said Bishop Morlino. Regarding Connell, Bishop Morlino said, "I forgive him and I'm praying for him and at the appropriate moment I'd want to visit him."
Our religion is based on the belief that we are all sinners, said Monsignor Swain. "I will pray for this gentleman who seems to be a troubled soul" and it is important for us to move from our natural reaction and be what we are really about - to share the love of Christ and be a forgiving people, he said.
"Whatever is put forward must be proved in court," he noted.
When asked whether he knew if Connell had had contact with St. Raphael Cathedral before, Monsignor Swain said he understood that Connell had stayed at homeless shelters before, but he didn't know if he had stayed at the cathedral's overflow shelter in particular.
Don't harbor ill feelings
When asked what he would tell those who are angry as a result of the arson, Bishop Morlino said any feeling of hurt or anger is normal and that it should be expressed.
"Talk it out. Don't deny it," he said. "Don't do any harm, but give into it in the sense of talking it through. Talk to God about your feeling and ask him to heal it. Feelings are not wrong. It's best to admit them, talk to God or Christ about it, then ask Christ to heal it."
We should not harbor ill feelings or allow ourselves to go deeper into them, he said.
"The light will come and we are a hopeful people," said Monsignor Swain. Our main focus must be on the people, he said.
Future of cathedral:
In addition to the Blessed Sacrament, some sacred items have been recovered. These include the processional cross, pictures, paintings, and the eighth Station of the Cross. Some of the other Stations of the Cross remain on the walls. The crucifix from the front of the church also was recovered in two pieces, and the arm of Jesus was broken off. Vestments and chalices were stored in the sacristy, which was not damaged. The silver statue of Mary still has not been discovered. Stained glass windows are still up, although one on one side was damaged, said Monsignor Swain.
We are still grieving and far from having to report on future decisions on the cathedral, said Bishop Robert C. Morlino. "The status of the structure will be the data for the initial starting point before we take the first step to first base," he said. Then we have to look at options, concerns, and what is best. "We're grieving and praying and hoping the Holy Spirit shows us the right steps."
At a March 15 press conference, the bishop noted that this is a situation in which he has to have all the facts and listen carefully.
We have to look at the whole picture, the needs of the diocese, and the status of St. Raphael Cathedral in the community, he said.
He noted two situations in which the cathedral had been damaged: one in Los Angeles and the other in Oakland.
"We will be consulting people outside the diocese," the bishop said. He mentioned that he will look at all reasonable ideas.
Bishop Morlino said the fire had come as a big surprise. "I'd just been there day before and the place was alive with faith," he said, noting that to see it reduced to its current state was "very much like going to a funeral home and seeing a dead body for the first time."
Insofar as a building goes, the cathedral is a sign of unity for the diocese, he said. This is people's spiritual home where their grandparents were buried and their children were married, where bishops are installed and priests are ordained, he said.
"God has his own ways of dealing with all of this," he said. "This is a burden God allowed to come into the community and we want to endure. We're confident good will come out of it. I'm very interested to see how. We'll take it one day at a time."
|Jump to: Top of page
|Front page Most recent issue Past issues|