With parishioners looking on in horror Monday night in Lawrence, Massachusetts as the rectory at Holy Rosary Church at Corpus Christi Parish was gutted by fire, Donna Kelly was afraid.
"We thought it was all done," Kelly said. "The flames last night. We’re so happy to see that Father Mawn was OK. Thank God."
The church has smoke and water damage, but firefighters kept the flames at bay. In the light of Tuesday, Nancy Plonowski’s first thoughts were with the priest who managed to get out unhurt.
"Fr. Francis Mawn is an elderly priest," she said. "I pray and heard he’s safe. That’s all that I care about, is my priest, Fr. Francis Mawn, is OK.”
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For a century this church has been the center of a community that’s grown more diverse. Plonowski explains, "it’s a parish of multi-languages. Of English, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian."
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The church has been shepherding families through generations, Marie Salvo’s among them.
"My grandfather put a second mortgage on his house to save the organ in this church," Salvo said. "My parents were baptized here. My grandparents were married here. My parents were married here. I’ve received all my sacraments here."
So many have given so much over so many years. Pat Marino’s immigrant grandparents raised money to build the church.
"My mother was a very talented seamstress and she made all of the banners for the church," Marino said. "The alter cloths. A lot of the curtains for the rectory."
They are united in what they want to see happen now.
"Personally, I’d like to see the rectory rebuilt and I think if the parishioners rally around Fr. Mawn I think we can get it done," Marino said. "We're a hearty group."
"Gonna upset many cultures if you don’t rebuild," she said. "Rebuild. Many cultures depending on this church."
There is talk of holding Mass in an events room, but nothing has yet been decided.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.