Good tidings for officials at fire-damaged church
Holiday Mass will be said at St. Peter
“Excuse me, Father, where’s this baptismal go?’’ a contractor asked the Rev. Stephen Zukas yesterday afternoon.
Zukas, a bear-like man wearing a sweat shirt and jeans, pointed toward a corner of St. Peter Church in South Boston, where a fire on Saturday morning threatened to destroy a century-old linchpin of the area’s Lithuanian community.
Throughout this Catholic church, nestled in the heart of the West Broadway public housing, workers laid temporary carpet, repaired the charred and ravaged sacristy, and prepared the sanctuary for what seemed all but impossible last weekend.
At St. Peter, there will be Mass on Christmas Eve.
That small miracle will be the result of four days of concentrated, coordinated bustle in which a hammer-wielding platoon of workers tackled the church’s carpentry, heating, insula tion, and upholstery needs.
“I had a little trouble sleeping at night, but I knew it’d get done,’’ said Chris Ferraro of Ridgemont Inc., the Brockton contractor who supervised the job. “I’m not sure that Father thought so.’’
Yesterday, all smiles, Zukas fielded a barrage of calls from parishioners who flock to the archdiocese’s last Lithuanian church from as far away as New Hampshire and Cape Cod. As far as he knew, Zukas told one caller, the organ still worked. Another checked on poinsettias for the Masses. And still another asked about times for the services.
That schedule - 4 p.m. today for English-language Mass, 6 p.m. for Lithuanian - will attract a bigger congregation than usual, Zukas predicted. But when they gather, the smell of smoke might linger inside the elegantly simple church where Mass was first celebrated in 1904.
“This is our mainstay, our life, the center of our community,’’ said Daiva Izbickas of Natick, whose parents fled Lithuania during World War II. “It’s really important to be baptized, and wed, and confirmed here in our native tongue.’’ Indeed, Zukas spoke Lithuanian on the phone with a parishioner, who told the priest that the fire made front-page news in the mother country.
The fire, which Zukas said might have been sparked by a burning incense wick, destroyed some stained-glass and damaged several items used during Holy Week, including candleholders, vases, and a statue. The bulk of the church, however, was spared.
During the blaze, unsure whether the church would be destroyed, Zukas remained on the scene. The experience reminded him of the firefighting duties he had aboard the USS Halsey, a guided-missile cruiser, during six years in the Navy.
When firefighters asked him to leave, Zukas gathered a dozen parishioners at the rectory to pray. Soon, after he began coughing up black matter, Zukas was whisked to a hospital by emergency personnel. He was given oxygen there, stabilized, and released a short time later.
The parish’s response to the fire, Zukas said, has been an overwhelming affirmation of their affection for St. Peter. “I’ve received a lot of calls of both a spiritual and personal nature,’’ said Zukas, who has been pastor for 11 years.
In 2004, the parish almost met its demise when the archdiocese placed St. Peter on a list of churches to be closed. The parish survived that trauma, and now the church has survived another.
To remind parishioners of what they almost lost, Zukas plans to keep a badly damaged Station of the Cross on display. Its plaster image of Jesus will be restored, he said, but the cross above the artwork will remain blackened and burned.
The purpose, Zukas said, will be twofold: “To keep intact a subtle reminder of what took place and of how good God is.’’