Holy rosary

Firefighters fight fire in Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church for hours on Monday night | Merrimack Valley

LAWRENCE – Firefighters spent hours Monday night battling a nagging blaze at a historic Catholic Church on Essex Street.

A four-alarm fire broke out in the Corpus Christi Parish Rectory of Holy Rosary Church at around 6:20 p.m.

Heavy gunfire erupted in the rectory area, with flames heading towards the roof of the church.

Fire Chief Brian Moriarty ordered an outside attack, meaning firefighters could not immediately enter the building to fight the blaze.

No immediate injuries were reported and the pastor of the church, Reverend Francis Mawn, was not injured, Lawrence police said.

At around 7:30 p.m., it appeared the blaze was under control, with firefighters inside reviewing and searching for hot spots.

Within minutes, the fire flared up again, flames leaping through the roof. Firefighters were again ordered to evacuate the building and fight the blaze from outside.

Lawrence’s firefighters were assisted by a large contingent of service firefighters from towns and villages across the region, including Andover, North Andover, Lowell, Haverhill, Methuen, Danvers, Middleton, Salem, New Hampshire, Billerica, Reading and North Reading.

Various inspectors were immediately called to the scene. Electricity was also cut in the neighborhood after the fire broke out on the roof.

The Holy Rosary Church was founded by Italian immigrants in 1904. In the 1960s, it welcomed the first Cubans to arrive in Lawrence, and later other Hispanic communities, according to the church’s website.

In November 2004, the Archdiocese of Boston established Corpus Christi Parish by uniting Holy Rosary and three other churches – Holy Trinity, St. Francis and Sts. Peter and Paul.

The church is the backbone of the annual Feast of the Three Saints in Lawrence and is beloved by many residents of the Merrimack Valley who have attended masses, baptisms, weddings, funerals and more.

“I cannot stress enough how important this church is to Italian immigrant families in the Merrimack Valley. Everyone in the Merrimack Valley has a connection to this church. God damn it,” said Christine Albert, a former resident of Salem, New Hampshire, in a tweet.

Another longtime parishioner Dan Roche, a WBZ presenter who lives in Andover, echoed similar sentiments on Twitter

“I have been going there for 25 years. I had family first communions, Christmas masses, funerals. So many good people. My wife’s grandparents lived across the street,” he wrote.

On social media platforms, Eagle-Tribune readers recalled that the church was the wedding venue of their parents and grandparents.

“I can’t stop crying,” writes Patricia Mariano, a longtime parishioner.

Follow reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.