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WEYMOUTH — The auditorium at Sacred Heart School in Weymouth erupted in cheers and applause when pastor Father Daniel J. Riley announced that Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley had given his approval to rebuild the parish’s church, which had been destroyed in fire only eight days earlier.
“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for,” Father Riley said during the June 17 end of the school year Mass. “With enthusiasm, Archbishop Seán has given us his complete blessing to build a new church.”
The 134-year-old church was decimated in a seven-alarm fire on the evening of June 9. According to the State Fire Marshall’s Office, the cause of the fire was a malfunctioning refrigerator in the basement of the church.
Father Riley added that Archbishop O’Malley is “passionately committed” to the school and has directed him to use some of the insurance money to strengthen the school if that is legally possible.
“The first person who called us the morning after the fire was Archbishop Seán,” he said. “He has been a friend and ally the whole way. There is no doubt in his mind about building a new church, about strengthening the school, and normally a process like this would take much, much longer. But realizing that this was the final Mass of the school year, he put this decision on the fast track. He wanted you to know about it by the end of the year, so we are grateful to Archbishop Seán.”
Father Riley also thanked the entire Sacred Heart community.
“I just wanted to tell you how deeply you’ve touched my heart this week. You have been an inspiration. Your love for each other and your love for me has been so great,” he said.
During the Mass, Father Riley encouraged the students to thank God for all the gifts He has given to Sacred Heart in the last year, including the recovery of 13-year-old Maggie Flaherty who was struck by a car on her street July 23. After parishioners gathered together to support the Flaherty family by holding special Masses, organizing a prayer line and placing candles in neighborhood windows, Maggie came out of her coma in August.
“She was fated almost certainly to die,” he said. “Maggie was brought back to life.”
After the Mass, parishioner Denise Connors said she was “very grateful” that the church would be rebuilt. Connors found out the church was on fire a little before midnight.
“I didn’t sleep,” she said.
Sheila Lucy said she received a call from her sister the night of the fire, and came down to see it for herself. So many of her fellow parishioners had the same idea that there was hardly a place to park, she added.
Lucy said she was “devastated” by what she saw.
“We were hoping it wasn’t as bad as it seemed,” she said.
The next day she and her three children came down to the church and she explained to them what had happened. Each took a brick from the remains of the church, and the family took a little piece of the roof, she said.
In an interview with reporters after Mass, Father Riley said rebuilding would happen as soon as possible and estimated that it would take about two years. The full Mass schedule would continue at the school, he said.
Archbishop O’Malley celebrated Mass at the school on Sunday June 12, three days after the fire. Prior to the Mass, the archbishop toured the remains of the church. At one point the archbishop paused to kiss the cross that had stood atop the church’s steeple but survived the flames.
Very few items survived the flames, but firefighters were able to salvage the tabernacle and its contents. Several of the stations of the cross, two bronze plaques with the names of parishioners who served in both World Wars, two marble holy water fonts, and a few statues have also been retrieved, according to parish historian Ray Dibonna.
However, Dibonna said that many historically significant items were lost in the fire, including stained glass windows, a marble high altar and a Woodbury tracker pipe organ.
“The significance of the organ is that it’s one of the few remaining mechanical or tracker action organs in the south shore area of that era, the turn of the 19th century,” he said. “For being 107 years old it was in very, very fine shape.”