CHICAGO — Ravaged by fire and time, St. Gelasius Church in the Woodlawn neighborhood had been shuttered for more than a year when a demolition crew arrived to shut off power and gas so it could start work in the summer of 2003.

But the crew was spotted by Sister Connie Driscoll, who ran a shelter next door and rushed out to stand in their way, refusing to allow them onto the property. The delay – parishioners called it divine intervention – gave supporters time to challenge the demolition permit and eventually save the church.

A new order of priests took over and began renovations that, 12 years later, were still being done when the 92-year-old church again caught fire, touched off by rags used to stain the floor Tuesday night, officials said.

The extra-alarm fire tore through the roof of the church, now known as the Shrine of Christ the King Church, and caused extensive damage that was still being tallied Wednesday.

There were no injuries, but dozens of women and children were evacuated from the shelter next door that Driscoll founded.

The first fire crews were alerted around 5:45 a.m. and the blaze was quickly raised to a 3-11 alarm, sending 150 firefighters to the scene along with extra equipment to fight flames shooting through the roof, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

Part of the roof collapsed by the time the fire was put out shortly before 9 a.m., Langford said.

Fire officials said the fire was caused by “spontaneous combustion” in rags used to apply floor stain. Langford said workers had been varnishing the floor Tuesday night.

Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas said the fire may have gone unnoticed for some time before the department was alerted. Crews had to fight the fire from outside because it had already spread across the roof and there were fears the roof might cave in.

Firefighters poured jets of water from the top of tower ladders. Water cascaded down the sides of the stone building, washing over the columns and statues of four saints above the entrance.

A group of eight to 10 people dressed in black cassocks stood praying in a small grassy area across from the entrance. Huddled nearby were dozens of women and children evacuated from St. Martin de Porres House of Hope.

“They were afraid the windows would explode,” said Sister Therese O’Sullivan, who co-founded the shelter with Driscoll. “I’m devastated. This is devastating.”

A firefighter gathered the women and children and escorted them to a warming bus on the other side of the church.

“Listen up,” he said. “Let’s get whatever you need and we’ll go to 63rd and Woodlawn. … This is just so we know where everybody is.”

Some of the women picked up their children as they stepped over streaming water. One firefighter picked up a child and carried him across the street from the parking lot.

After the fire was extinguished, firefighters carried several artifacts out of the church and handed them over to priests. Among those was a statue of the Divine Infant Jesus made in Spain in the 1700s.

The church, formerly known as St. Gelasius, was built by the Calced Carmelite Order in 1923 and once housed a shrine to St. Therese of Lisieux, according to the church’s website.

A fire in the late 1970s destroyed much of the interior of the neo-Renaissance church and repairs were slow. By 2002, parishioners numbered around 100 and the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese decided to close it. A year later, the archdiocese moved to tear the church down.

After the demolition crew was turned away, the city’s permit department revoked the demolition permit on a technicality. The application had inaccurately listed the number of stories on the adjoining rectory, a department spokeswoman said.

Mayor Richard M. Daley sided with the preservationists and the archdiocese announced in early 2004 that it was turning the church over to the Institute of Christ the King, an order of priests in Italy that planned to renovate the church and celebrate the Mass in Latin.

The church was reopened as the Shrine of Christ the King as the order launched an initial fundraising drive to collect nearly $6 million for the work. Cost estimates rose as the work was parceled out over more than 10 years.

In December 2007, the church was temporarily fitted with donated pews and temporary altars, along with rented heating, according to its website, which added: “The restoration of this magnificent church for permanent use is entirely dependent on the generous donation of the needed funds.”

O’Sullivan, who has lived in Woodlawn since the 1960s, said the church got a new roof about six months ago.

Nicole Raciunas, 45, said her family and other parishioners helped with restoration work over the years, which included cleaning and making altar clothes. She said the church was about to start work on getting permanent heating.

On Tuesday, workers were remodeling the floor until late into the evening, according to fire officials and Raciunas.

“It was beautiful inside,” she said. “Fabric covered holes in the walls from the previous fire. … And there were still some burn marks. But it was beautiful.”

Raciunas said she was on her way to 8 a.m. Mass when she got a text from a friend telling her about the fire. “I know it’s a building, but it is our home,” Raciunas said, wiping away tears. “We’re just always here.”‘

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