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Shrine of St. Joseph Is the Latest St. Louis-Area Church Hit by Arson

by Erik Ortiz /  / Updated 

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A historic Catholic church near downtown St. Louis was targeted early Thursday by a suspected arsonist — the seventh apparent attack on a house of worship in two weeks, local authorities said.

Related: St. Louis Police Chief Vows to Catch Church Arsonist

Firefighters rushed to the Shrine of St. Joseph just after 1:30 a.m. CT. The front doors of the rectory had been deliberately burned with a small amount of accelerant, the St. Louis Fire Department said in a news release. The rectory was empty at the time and there were no reported injuries.

The investigation remains ongoing. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said the fire appears similar to the other recent arsons in the St. Louis area in which only the front doors of churches were burned.

The first arson occurred on Oct. 8 with damage to the Bethel Nondemontional Church, a mainly black sanctuary in suburban St. Louis near Ferguson, police said.

While the Shrine of St. Joseph has a mostly white congregation, the other churches are predominantly black, according to NBC affiliate KSDK.

No known motive has been suggested by authorities, and police, clergy and civil rights groups have said there's nothing to indicate the fires were racially motivated.

Law enforcement and Crimestoppers are offering a $9,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest.

Jesuits founded the parish of the Shrine of St. Joseph in 1843, and the St. Louis landmark is nicknamed the "Miracle Church." In 1864, it became the first Vatican-certified miracle west of the Mississippi River when a sick German immigrant is believed to have become healed by a relic belonging to future saint Peter Claver.

During a community meeting Wednesday, Dotson said the arsonist has "picked a fight they cannot win."

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