LAWRENCE — By Thursday afternoon, Connie Pickles had called 25 fellow parishioners of Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church. She had good news she needed each of them to help spread.
Masses will resume in the upper church Friday, exactly five months after a fire ripped through the historic Essex Street rectory.
Pickles said more than 20 volunteers moved everything from a temporary setup in the parish center on Common Street to the recently cleaned and restored upper church.
At least 100 firefighters from Lawrence and area cities and towns spent hours battling the stubborn four-alarm blaze back in February. Lawrence fire Chief Brian Moriarty said they were able to keep the fire from leaping from the rectory down two hallways that lead into the church.
The Rev. Francis Mawn, the only one inside when the fire broke out, escaped unharmed.
“A week or two after the fire, Father Mawn organized so that we could attend Mass,” Pickles said. “He worked really hard to get us back.”
Attention quickly turned to fixing water and smoke damage in the upper church. Pickles says there is still work to be done elsewhere, but no shortage of volunteers.
“The lower church needs a new floor because of water damage,” she explained. “The rectory hasn’t been touched yet. They’re still in the planning stages of how to rebuild.”
Nobody, she said, has been discouraged.
“People outside of the parish community would say ‘what a terrible thing,’” Pickles said. “But I always say that you have to look at the miracles. Father Mawn was not hurt. And the church was saved thanks to the firefighters.”
She and her husband, Wayne, who welcomed Mawn into their home immediately after the fire, were married at Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church 48 years ago.
They are among many parishioners who measure the milestones of their life through the church.
“My grandfather was a custodian there many years ago,” Pickles said. “Mom cooked for the seven or eight priests who were in the rectory at any given time. It's always been about family. We didn’t hesitate, of course, when father needed a place to stay."
Patricia Mariano, 71, counts back at least four generations while recalling her family’s deep roots.
“My grandparents were immigrants from Italy,” she said just after the fire, sharing a story of how they donated mill work pay to the church construction effort. “It’s more than the church for my family and a lot of families that are part of it.”
She choked back tears as she planned a time to go see the fire damage for the first time.
Pickles expects joyful cries Friday, when masses return to their usual spot.