Fire destroys Lawrence rectory, church spared

LAWRENCE -- A four-alarm fire blazed in the rectory of Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church in the evening of Feb. 22 but was contained and prevented from reaching the attached church building.

The fire broke out a little before 6 p.m. and was mostly on the second and third floors of the rectory building. The parish's pastor, Father Francis Mawn, who was the only resident of the rectory, escaped the fire unharmed and is now staying with parishioners.

Lawrence Fire Department Chief Brian Moriarty said that the cause of the fire was accidental and electrical in nature.

He said that when deputies arrived on the scene, it seemed clear that the rectory would be destroyed, given how much fire was on the upper floors. However, they were able to keep it from spreading to the church, which is connected to the rectory.

The church "did have a significant amount of water damage, but all the artifacts were untouched. The stained-glass windows and all the beautiful things upstairs were not destroyed by the fire. So we're quite pleased that we were able to accomplish that," Moriarty said in a Feb. 24 interview.

He said units from more than a dozen departments came through to help.

"It was a great effort by not only the Lawrence Fire Department but the many fire departments that were surrounding our community with the mutual aid system that came in to help fight this fire as well as do station coverage and protect our city while we were fighting this fire," he said.

Moriarty said he felt it was a "successful operation for what we were dealing with."

"We can't always save every building, but we were able to keep it from getting in that church, so we're quite pleased with that effort and thank all our mutual aid partners who came in and helped us. We couldn't have done it without them," he said.

Holy Rosary Church was founded by the city's Italian immigrants in 1904. A century later, in 2004, the Archdiocese of Boston established Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church as a territorial parish, created by uniting four national parishes in Lawrence. The parish is known throughout the region for its annual feast of the Three Saints, which draws thousands of festival-goers to Lawrence on Labor Day weekend each year.