Historic Church in Weymouth, Massachusetts Destroyed by Fire

WEYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) -- Fire tore through a 134-year-old church in Weymouth, leaving just a charred shell of the building and hundreds of stunned parishioners in its wake.

The seven-alarm blaze broke out in the towering brick Sacred Heart Church around 10 p.m. Thursday. Weymouth Fire Chief Robert Leary said the fire apparently started in a boiler room in the basement and quickly rose through the sanctuary to the roof.

Flames and smoke billowed out of the church's new stained-glass windows as dozens neighbors and parishioners gathered to watch it burn. The Rev. Harry Kaufman, an assistant priest at Sacred Heart, led some of them in prayer.

''It's just a beautiful church, just a beautiful church,'' said longtime parishioner Carolyn Puleo, 64. ''I love this parish.''

Vito Denisi's daughter was to be married at Sacred Heart on Saturday, and the wedding party had been inside for the rehearsal earlier Thursday. Denisi said the family was scrambling to make other plans for the ceremony.

Another wedding was scheduled for Friday.

No one was in the church when the fire broke out, officials said. Some 100 firefighters from as far away as Boston battled the blaze, and at least two of them suffered minor injuries.

The adjacent school and rectory were not damaged.

''This is a tragic loss to the community,'' Leary said. ''What (parishioners) have to remember is that the church is just a building, and their faith will guide them through.''

The church, which has about 1,500 members, was built by Irish immigrants in the 1800s. It had survived last year's reorganization of parishes in the Boston Archdiocese, when about 80 churches were targeted to close or be folded into other parishes.

Thomas Lacey, a Sacred Heart parishioner and president of the town council, told The Patriot Ledger of Quincy that he spoke to the pastor, the Rev. Daniel Riley, who was returning from a retreat in Gloucester when the fire broke out.

Lacey said the parish would hold Masses in the undamaged school auditorium next door.

The Weymouth police and fire departments and the State Fire Marshal's Office are investigating the cause of the fire.