Cookie-making nuns reward firefighters who put out monastery fire

The nuns were forced out of their home when lightning struck the building

By Renatta Signorini

PITTSBURGH — Fourteen nuns who live at a Butler County monastery were forced out of their home late Thursday afternoon when lightning struck the building and caused a fire on the second floor, according to Saxonburg Fire Chief Chris Ballina.

Firefighters quickly put out the fire at the Nativity of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Monastery near Saxonburg. Then they ate cookies.

“They had so many cookies and cakes,” Ballina said. “You name it, they had it. They were running around with Gatorade and water.”

Firefighters responded to the monastery at 4:20 p.m. Thursday and found that lightning hit a heating and air conditioning unit on the second floor. Flames spread from a small room containing the equipment into a hall, Ballina said. Firefighters saw orange flames through a picture window on the second floor when they arrived at the secluded Jefferson Township site surrounded by woods and farmland.

“When we were running in, they were running out,” Ballina said.

No one was injured, but the fire caused between $50,000 and $80,000 worth of damage. The monastery recently spent $250,000 to update windows, he said.

Saxonburg firefighters respond there on occasion for automatic fire alarms and always are welcomed warmly, Ballina said.

“They're always baking,” he said.

The firefighters are glad to sample.

“They're taking care of us, that's for sure,” Ballina said. “I brought 15 boxes of cookies back last night.”

“Every time we leave that place I gain about three pounds,” he said.

The nuns may have stayed elsewhere at the site that also serves as St. Elias Retreat Center. Ballina said they declined help from the American Red Cross.

The building will be livable once an electrician assesses the damage, he said.

The monastery could not immediately be reached Friday.

“There was lightning everywhere and it was a huge crash, huge,” the monastery's Abbess Theophano told Tribune-Review news partner WPXI.

Copyright 2017 Tribune-Review

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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