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While the inside of the house was destroyed by the fire, a portrait of Pope Francis escaped smoke or water damage.

A cruel twist of fate resulted in three Divine Word College lay students and their spiritual leader losing nearly all of their possessions in a fire early in the morning of Jan. 20.

The three students—Stephanie Gado, from Togo, Amarainy Espinosa, from St. Martin’s and Pamela Avellanosa, from the Philippines—along with Sister Mary Oladimeji, RSM, were told to each grab approximately a week’s worth of clothing after learning there had been a small fire in their home near the Divine Word campus Jan. 19.

That fire, caused by an overloaded electrical circuit, began at 11:30 a.m. in the attic above the kitchen.

Shortly after 1 a.m. the next day, firefighters were called back to 112 First Street SW to an empty house that was fully engulfed in flames.

The Epworth Fire Department ruled the cause of the second blaze to be electricity restored to the home and an adjacent circuit probably damaged during the first fire.

The home, which is owned by the college, was destroyed.

The displaced students have begun the journey back to normal with the help of an outpouring of generosity from the campus community and beyond.

“We’re getting a lot of donations in. It’s going really well,” said Sandy Wilgenbusch, director of public relations at Divine Word. “I’m real happy that people are stepping up.”

The college established a “displaced student fund,” and Dubuque Bank & Trust set up a similar fund.

Checks written to Divine Word should include “displaced student fund” on the memo line. Donations at any DB&T branch should also be directed to the displaced students.

“They’re doing as well as can be expected,” Wilgenbusch said about the students. “There’s still some shock, but we’re thankful nobody was there.”

Wilgenbusch said that since the students are from different countries, it’s not possible for their family to visit and offer them emotional support.

“All three have wonderful attitudes and have gotten a lot of prayers from around the college,” she said.

Oddly enough, among the charred and water-soaked ruins of the home, a portrait of Pope Francis remained unscathed. It is now safely stored at the college.

“I would venture to guess the picture will go into the next building (the students) live in and stay with them,” said Wilgenbusch.