For 16 months, St. Mary Catholic Church in Massillon has been closed, after a fire ripped through the historic house of worship.
Not a single seat was empty Saturday as the church reopened its doors, just in time for Christmas Eve Mass.
"It makes me so happy to see these parishioners home again," said Father Ed Gretchko.
It's been more than a year of renovations on the 140 year old building after a fire broke out in the southeast corner of the church damaging the baptistery -- but it was the heavy smoke billowing out of St. Mary's that left much of the interior in need of care. The structure was spared in the fire but it would later take about a year to renovate and restore the church back to its former beauty.
Crews spent the past year cleaning every area affected by the fire.The pillars and pews were cleaned, and the arches had to be rebuilt. Some areas still require attention in the weeks to come. While there's still some work to be done, Gretchko said the past year has been about witnessing a community coming together and prayers being answered.
"To see it restored, and to say 'What fire can do. What God can help us with and how man can restore and bring beauty back when beauty was lost.'"
Immediately after the Aug. 4 fire, the church was welcomed with open arms by St. Paul's Lutheran Church, which sits right across the street. It's an act of kindness that's hard to forget.
"They're in my heart. They have hugged me on the first week. They smile every day,” said Paula Getchko.
Hundreds of smiles filled the room today – some members of the church tearing up as they embraced one another as the 5 p.m. Mass came to a close.