Parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida, were met with a disturbing scene as they arrived for Mass on the morning of Saturday, July 11, 2020. Police cars blocked the entrance, and the parking lot was chock full of fire trucks with flashing lights. Their beloved church was the target for an act of arson that made headlines nationwide.
Naturally, their hearts were heavy. However, before the sun set, they could find solace with the efficiency of parish employees and the Catholic men who reestablished order. They were also left in awe at a truly miraculous occurrence.
Disorder Where Order Had Reigned
It all began at around 7:30 a.m. when a white minivan drove up to the front of the Church, made a sharp U-turn and then rammed through the right entrance doors. The driver then got out of the car and poured 10 gallons of gasoline in the vestibule as a lady parishioner looked on in shock.
The alleged arsonist Steven A. Shields (who was reported to have later confessed he committed the crime to police) then reentered his vehicle. As he backed his van out, he threw a flaming object which ignited the fuel and caused an explosion. Fr. Patrick O’Doherty, the pastor of Queen of Peace, witnessed the entire scene and immediately called 911. The quick response of heroic firefighters five minutes later prevented greater loss. Nevertheless, the vestibule was severely damaged and will need to be completely renovated. This event created disorder where order once reigned.
These are the bare facts that surrounded this criminal act. Some lessons can be learned from this event and the parish’s response that day.
Peace is the “Tranquility of Order”
Many have pointed out the irony that such destruction should happen in a parish named Queen of Peace. Such disorderly acts should not surprise us in a world that has long ceased to recognize God’s law.
Peace is not just the absence of violence but rather, as Saint Augustine eloquently explains, the “tranquility of order.” We should obey God’s law, not because it pleases us, but because they are true laws that ought to be observed. Society can then enjoy the real idea of peace that naturally comes from order. When Divine Law is consistently transgressed, disorder enters.
According to police reports, the suspect at Queen of Peace was deranged. At the writing of this article, there is no proof that he was linked with the lawlessness nationwide. However, his actions do reflect the unbridled passions and unbalance of a sector of society that has long denied God’s law.
In times like these, order-loving Americans shine. They seem to come out of the woodwork when they are actually always in our midst. We just don’t recognize their contribution to the good functioning of civilized society.
The parishioners of Queen of Peace saw people step up to the plate immediately after the fire. The church’s employees went above and beyond their functions. Generous men came forward motivated only by their love for the Church, good order and charity toward their neighbors.
They immediately worked to board up the doors that were destroyed and make ready the church hall for the scheduled 4:00 p.m. Mass
Except for the canceled 8:30 a.m. Mass, parish life went on as if nothing ever happened. Those same men and others stood watch over all the weekend Masses for the comfort and safety of worshipers. This solicitude helped quell the psychological fear that such terrifying acts create in their victims.
Don’t Mess With Floridians
Ocalians are a unique brand of Floridian. They are fiercely patriotic, law-abiding citizens who are also keenly aware of their Second Amendment rights and are capable of exercising lawful self-defense. This might be seen in a seventy-something-year-old lady with sky blue eyes, or others like her with twinkles in their eyes and tight-lipped-determination on their faces. One never knows what they are capable of, but one can surmise that if their husbands are in trouble, they will be able to fill the breach.
While they are some of the most charming people you will ever want to meet, their friendliness should not be interpreted as a weakness. Queen of Peace parishioners, both men and women, were upbeat and confident after an event that might have made others cower. This is due largely to a pastor who is truly a man’s man and cares about his flock.
Such people as these draw down God’s blessings and the protection of His holy angels and glorious saints.
Smile of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus
These blessings could be seen in the miraculous preservation of the church’s relics displayed in the vestibule. Dominick Joseph Galatalo, a full-time member of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), noted this wonder when he entered the damaged church.
He had just returned from a cross-country trip with other TFP members in a special campaign to pray for America’s return to order with Rosary rallies in every state capital. At the time of the incident, he was visiting family and thus helped his father, also called Dominick, to restore peace to this shattered parish.
Dominick Joseph was surprised to see amid the charred walls the framed pictures of two Carmelite daughters of the Prophet Elias; Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus and Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity. Each picture contained a first-class relic. Both were unscathed.
Dominick Joseph was astonished to see the document of authentication of the relic of Saint Elizabeth lying spotless atop a pile of ashes. This piece of paper was left perfectly intact and has now become a veritable relic itself because of the Divine protection from an otherwise all-consuming fire.
These two relics were not the only ones that were preserved. Many others were hanging on the wall, including a relic of America’s first canonized saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. All were saved from the fire by the hand of Almighty God. These holy treasures were a few feet away from what seemed to be the “epicenter” of the fire.
The Rest of the Story
The story does not end there. The night before this fire occurred, Mr. Galatolo enjoyed a dinner with some of his employees at a nearby restaurant. He noticed a group of police officers and took the opportunity to give them all a Saint Michael’s medal for their protection. He then thanked them for their service and left the restaurant. He was surprised the following morning to find one of those officers on the crime scene. They exchanged greetings amidst the ruin and then went about their business.
On Sunday morning, Dominick Joseph saw another officer approach the charred entrance to Queen of Peace. He was not Catholic but wanted to see if everything was okay. He was the officer who arrested the arson suspect. Dominic Joseph apologized for not having a Saint Michael’s medal to give him.
“No problem,” the officer responded, “I always have one on my dashboard. It’s not on this squad car because I used my other car in a ‘pit maneuver’ to crash into the criminal’s car. It is being repaired.”
A Parable For a Nation in Turmoil
The fire at Queen of Peace in Ocala, Florida, is a shining example for those suffering nationwide from the lawlessness that has engulfed our great nation. Great, yes, because there are still Americans who love order and are willing to sacrifice themselves and their time to restore genuine peace to society. The act of wanton destruction might appear to be a crooked line, but Catholics know that God often uses such things to make the way straight for a marvelous return to order.