Fire Erupts at Church Rectory in Downtown Lawrence

Video from the scene showed flames erupting from the roof of a building

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A massive 4-alarm fire ripped through a church rectory Monday in Lawrence, Massachusetts, as firefighters fought to save the century-old church.

Lawrence firefighters who responded to 35 Essex Street worked tirelessly to prevent flames from spreading to the historic Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church, a landmark in the area. The Billerica Fire Department also responded to the blaze that broke out just before 6 p.m.

“Our objective was and still is to keep it out of the church. The rectory and church are connected, they are connected by two stairways,” said Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty.

Eyewitness video shows the first minutes of the blaze, with flames erupting from the roof of the rectory.

The longtime secretary at the Lawrence church, Ivette Chakar, tells NBC10 Boston that Pastor Francis Mawn was in the rectory at the time flames broke out but he made it out safely before fire crews arrived.

“Oh my god I’m devastated, devastated, I’ve been working here for 20 years,” Chakar said.

On a night where wintry weather tapered off and low temperatures dropped to around freezing across New England, slick spots and black ice were a problem. The frigid temperatures did make fighting the stubborn fire tough with several slips and falls, though there were no major injuries reported.

Firefighters had to access the rectory from an alleyway, but shortly after crews were called out of the building because the conditions were just too dangerous.

“We were unable to get in third floor because the stairs were burnt out,” Moriarty said.

There is some water and smoke damage in the church, with the water mostly in the basement, but the structure is intact -- a credit to the firefighters' efforts.

Corpus Christi Parish started out as a parish for the Italian community back in the early 1900s. A large number of people with ties to the church had gathered on scene Monday night. And for so many, they say Holy Rosary has been in their lives for generations.

“Every nationality had its own parish and this was the parish for the Italian Americans,” said parishioner Joe Mariano.

“I’ve been a member of this parish since the early 60s when I was born and I was lucky and fortunate enough to be married here, all my daughters have been married here,” said parishioner Domenic Messina.

“It’s really a vibrant part of the community of Lawrence. The feast of the three saints is almost 100 years old and it’s a celebration for the Italian community in Lawrence,” said Amita Kiley, of the Lawrence History Center.

“The memories are endless. Countless," Joe Mariano said. "I have faith we’ll be back bigger and better and stronger than where we are now.”

The chief says the smoke detectors were working. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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