Hargill faithful return to sanctuary

Church sustained heavy damage in 2015 arson fire 

The Valley Catholic

HARGILL — In April, the faithful of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Hargill celebrated Holy Week and Easter in their sanctuary for the first time since 2015.


“It feels good to be back in our home,” said parishioner Hermilo Gomez as he placed several large palm plants on the altar in preparation for the Palm Sunday Mass.

On July 10, 2015, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church was intentionally set on fire and sustained $85,000 in damage, relegating the members to the parish hall for Mass for about a year.

Almost two years later, no one has been arrested for the crime, but many suspect it was gang activity.

Several parishioners gathered to talk about the fire and its aftermath.

“It was about 4 a.m. and one of my neighbors said they saw smoke coming from the church,” said Ray Dell McClaugherty. “I got over here and the church was ablaze. I got the manguera (garden hose) and started shooting water at it and it did no good.”

The Monte Alto Fire Department responded a few minutes later and put out the blaze, but by then the south side of the church was destroyed and the entire sanctuary sustained heavy smoke damage.

That same night, the Baptist church in Hargill also was intentionally set on fire, according to the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office. At both churches, the arsonist had thrown a brick through the window and used an accelerant to start the fires.

The fires shook the small rural community of about 900 people, which is located in northeastern Hidalgo County. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, which is a mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Raymondville, was in shambles. The walls and insulation in the church had to be removed and replaced in order to preserve the integrity of the church, which was built in 1945. The furnishings, icons and statues had to be treated by a company that specializes in restoring items damaged by fire.

“We felt very sad that someone would do this to us,” said Diana Lerma, who lives in Edinburg, but travels to her native Hargill every Sunday morning for Mass and to coordinate the religious education program. “Some of us even cried because of what they had done.”

“This should have never happened,” Gomez said. “They should never have done this. It’s just not right. Our hearts hurt.”

“We’ve all spent a lot of years here,” McClaugherty said. “My wife (Isabel) and I were married here 50 years ago.

“Were y’all married here?” McClaugherty asked his fellow parishioners, who all nodded.

The church is nearly back to normal after the fire, both physically and spiritually. The parishioners say they forgave whoever did this long ago, but would like to see them brought to justice so they don’t do this to someone else.

Some of the Stations of the Cross in the church still show heavy damage from the fire, but they wouldn’t dream of replacing them, Lerma said. The icons are among the few items that remain from the original church.

“The charred parts tell a sad chapter of our story, but it’s still our story,” she said. “We have survived this fire and other ups and downs over the years, and we’re still going strong.”

The Valley Catholic
700 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd.
San Juan, TX 78589

Phone: (956) 781-5323
Fax: (956) 784-5082
Publisher: Bishop Daniel E. Flores
Editor: Brenda Nettles Riojas