Immaculate Conception Parish copes with fire’s aftermath

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By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer

Immaculate Conception Parish
photo/courtesy Shel Frolich Tscherne

Marlborough– On February 2, more than 100 congregation members came together at the Immaculate Conception Parish for a celebration. In English, Spanish and Portuguese, they prayed a Rosary of thanksgiving, a Catholic devotion that honors Mary, the mother of Jesus, the namesake of the church. The beautiful event was held to thank God that nobody was hurt and the church survived the accidental Jan. 20 fire that ripped through an upper part of the church.

The church, which was founded in 1854, has been coping with the fire’s aftermath with gratitude and faith. It has remained optimistic and has made strides in restoring the building.

“We always look with the eyes of faith,” Reverend Steven Clemence, the church’s pastor, said. “Instead of asking why, we always thank God and give thanks that God is bringing us together because of the fire.”

And the native of Brazil is also thankful for other things. Not only is he grateful that he and Reverend Andrea Filippucci, one of the church’s parochial vicars – who both ran toward the flames with a fire extinguisher after being notified by the church’s security monitoring company – escaped unharmed, he’s grateful that the church wasn’t destroyed. He said that firefighters told him that if the fire had raged for two to five minutes more, it would have been incinerated.

Although the upper sacristy (the area where the priests prepare for Mass) and everything in it, including vessels, books, vestments, the sound system and the lighting system, was consumed by the fire and the upper church and its organ, paintings, walls, lighting system and sound system incurred significant damages, the lower church was only affected by smoke, water and heating system problems. Restoration specialists were immediately brought in to clean the church.

“The church was closed for about a week,” Clemence said, adding that all Masses are being held again in the lower church, which is handicap accessible.

Since the restoration of the upper church will take several months and the damage is still being assessed, there will be more obstacles to overcome. But some of the greatest challenges have been emotional ones.

“We’re here to be open to serve the people,” Clemence said, noting that he was frustrated when he couldn’t devote more time to pastoral responsibilities. “I had to dedicate 100 percent to the issue of re-opening.”

He also explained that some items that were lost were tremendously meaningful to priests and the congregation. Some were items that had been given to the parish in memory of parishioners’ loved ones. Some were items that were treasured by the priests.

Clemence said that one of those items was an alb (a vestment worn during Mass) that he wore when he was ordained a priest in 2014.

“It always helped me to remember the first time I put it on,” Clemence recalled.

But he focuses on the blessings. Clemence appreciates the efforts of the fire departments of Marlborough, Hudson and Northborough, the hospitality of area priests and the encouragement and support of the community, including people such as Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Marlborough’s mayor, Arthur G. Vigeant.

“It was very touching how the whole community supported us,” Clemence shared, adding that in a sometimes divided world, compassion united people. “We are all children of God.”