MARYSVILLE — Something important was taken from them.
Dang Mai could see it on the faces of his fellow parishioners at St. Mary Catholic Church.
In January, the Marysville church discovered its tabernacle had been stolen. The next day, it was found ditched outside. One of the doors had been pried off and was missing. The police said the tabernacle was damaged beyond repair.
In the Catholic faith, the tabernacle is considered a “sacred place where the body of Christ is reserved,” the Rev. Tom McMichael said. It is a bronze-colored box with a sunburst pattern — the focal point of the sanctuary.
“That is the very presence of Christ,” McMichael said.
At Mass after the theft, “All the people here were sad. We looked empty,” said Mai, 59.
Mai has been a part of St. Mary since 1991. The church sponsored 21 people from his family to come to the U.S. after the Vietnam War, starting with his father in 1975.
Mai and his wife, Van, raised their five children in Marysville. He has worked for an aerospace fabrication shop for 22 years.
He took apart the damaged tabernacle, washed every piece and removed rust. The fabric lining was torn and soiled, and his wife helped pick the new material. His goal was to “make it look like nothing happened,” he said. The effort took about 18 hours.
Weeks later, more is known about what happened to the tabernacle. The suspected thief, a 42-year-old Lake Stevens man, was arrested Feb. 14 by a regional team of detectives known as the north county property crimes unit.
The man’s friend had been attending services at St. Mary to case the church, according to the arrest report. They were planning to sell the tabernacle door for scrap metal. They apparently became concerned the unique design might raise suspicion.
The door was buried in a ravine near an abandoned house in Marysville where they were staying, according to police. Someone later told detectives about the hiding spot, and the door was recovered.
After Mai finished his work, his wife took pictures. The couple were so excited, they sent the images to McMichael late at night.
The tabernacle went back on display, just in time for the Feb. 26 visit from Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo.
That Sunday, the church celebrated a Mass of reparation with prayers for healing and for the suspected thieves. The practice is used to restore something holy that has been desecrated.