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Fire tears through Townsend rectory

Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at the rectory of St. John the Evangelist Church in Townsend on Dec. 21. Pilot photo/courtesy Shirley Fire Dept.

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TOWNSEND -- A fire broke out in the rectory of St. John the Evangelist Church on the morning of Dec. 21, devastating the residence but leaving the church untouched.

The only person in the rectory at the time was the parish's pastor, Father Jeremy St. Martin. Smoke alarms alerted him to the fire on the first floor just before 2 a.m., and he initially tried to put it out using a fire extinguisher, burning his hands in the process.

Firefighters from Ashby, Fitchburg, and Pepperell responded to the four-alarm fire. Boston 25 News reported that the second floor of the building collapsed onto the first floor. By about 6 a.m., the fire seemed to be extinguished, though firefighters continued to search for possible hotspots in the building.

As of press time, the investigation into the cause of the fire was still ongoing.

Merrimack Regional Bishop Robert Hennessey confirmed that Father St. Martin had sustained second-degree burns on his hands, was treated at a hospital, and was subsequently released that morning. He is now at the rectory of his other parish, Our Lady of Grace in Pepperell.

"The loss of the rectory at St. John's is very sad. It is all the more so at this Christmas time. I was happy that, in spite of the loss of property, there was no loss of human life," Bishop Hennessey said.

Speaking via phone in the immediate aftermath of the fire, Deacon Charles "Chuck" Kelley said St. John the Evangelist Parish had already received many messages of support from both parishioners and people outside the parish community.

"We thank them for that and ask everybody for their continued prayers as we work to rebuild," Deacon Kelley said.

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