Alyssa Murphy is the Register’s Managing Editor of Digital Assets. Known for her work on-air with EWTN’s Morning Glory, Alyssa has over 20 years of experience writing news in all facets of media She’s passionate about volunteering serving on the board of the Fund for Alexandria’s Child and coaching soccer to at-risk youth in Washington, D.C. She and her husband Andrew are expecting their first child in the Fall.
Churches are always beautiful things to behold — especially cathedrals with their tall spires and rich histories. But churches are much more than the beautiful architecture and gleaming marble floors; they become our homes, where two become one and children receive their first Holy Communion. Not to mention where the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ lives.
That’s why the news of the devastating arson attack on the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Tallahassee, Florida shook the Criado family to the core.
“At first, my husband and I were just shocked. We feel violated in a personal way because this is our home. That’s something I frequently told our son while I was pregnant with him and in the 4 weeks since birth: This is home. This is where we belong,” Cheryl said. Her husband, Kristopher agrees. “St. Thomas More is our home away from home. It is the place where we first met, got married, found community and got involved in a number of ministries,” Kristopher explained.
For Cheryl, the attack that took place Wednesday, leaving the interior of the church damaged and smoldered, was an assault on her childhood. “I don’t even know where to start with memories,” Cheryl said. “This is the church I helped decorate for Christmas when I was in middle school. This is the place where I receive Our Lord, commune with Him, touch His mercy and grace. I’m not sure that can be put in words.” The church is also where their son will be baptized later this month.
Kristopher first met his wife Cheryl at St. Thomas More. “We first met at a day retreat that was hosted at St. Thomas More. I was in charge of praise and worship and Cheryl was naturally attracted to music and approached me. Fast forward a couple months and we started dating!” St. Thomas More is also where the Criado’s found a strong and loving community that helped prepare them for marriage. “This is where not only were we married on the most joyful day of our lives, but where we also have witnessed the marriages of many of our closest friends. This is the place we have celebrated the baptism of our friend’s children,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl is still hurt by the fact their beloved parish was attacked and could have burned to the ground. But she still holds on to all of the memories she has of the beloved church. “I would have to say one of our most treasured memories is of the Easter Vigil Masses we have attended and sung in the choir,” adding, “That joy is unlike anything else.”
Rector John Cayer said several chairs including the cathedra were lit on fire using some sort of accelerant, and the sanctuary is burned. He’s asking for prayers for the church and congregation, and he says they are prepared to rebuild. “We are going to get through it. This is not where it ends. We are very hopeful for the future.”
Kris has always been touched by the solid priests who lead the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, calling all of them close friends. “Father John did our marriage prep and is our main confessor. He also blessed our first house as a married couple.” Kris also mentioned Father Tim who he says “has amazing homilies and is never afraid to challenge you and hold you accountable.” Being so musically-inclined, Kris loves how Father Mark sings songs during his homilies, saying that “it sparks joy in everyone’s heart.”
The church also serves as a student center for Catholics at Florida State University, adding to the young growing vibrant community of the parish. The young Criado couple were engaged after a couple of years of dating and they believe the St. Thomas More community played a key role in solidifying their relationship. They now have quite a support group at the parish, in some ways a second family. “Almost all of our friends go to the same 10 a.m. Mass and we all catch up afterwards...sometimes over second breakfast! We also gather together regularly for praise and worship, Lord’s Day dinners, and taking pastoral courses on topics like leadership, healthy relationships, and discernment for our vocations,” said Kris.
The young couple now has a 4-week-old son at home, Jacob, who will be baptized soon. And Cheryl wants nothing more than their parish home to be rebuilt. Although she knows the arson attack did scare her, she also lets the light of her Catholic faith shine through. “As we are hurt and upset at whoever did this, I know that individual needs prayers. A person who sets fire to a church is in need of healing, and I pray that person finds the beauty of the love and mercy Christ has for them.”