The former rectory of now-closed Blessed Sacrament Parish in North Portland went up in flames Aug. 25, threatening St. Irene Byzantine Catholic Church. No one was injured and the house of worship was saved from damage when firefighters doused the early Sunday blaze.
The century-old house at North Blandena Street and North Maryland Avenue was vacant and boarded up. About 20 people who are homeless live near the rectory and school, which the Archdiocese of Portland no longer owns. Some people were sleeping on the old rectory's porch and had to flee when the fire was discovered.
Portland Fire & Rescue is investigating the cause of the flames. One homeless woman said she had earlier doused a shirt and mattress that had been smoldering in an upstairs room.
“The volume of fire, and unknown condition of the vacant building, prompted incident command to take a defensive strategy: protecting adjacent structures and containing the fire to a single building,” said a press release from fire officials. Crews worked for about an hour to control the fire.
“I’m thankful to God that we didn’t have any damage here,” Father Frank Knusel told KOIN news. He is pastor of of Saint Irene.
Stanley Pfeifer, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Aloha, grew up near Blessed Sacrament Parish and attended the school. The fire has caused memories to come rushing back.
He recalls a day in the 1960s when Msgr. Carl Gimpl, one of the parish priests, met with him and his father in the rectory office to discuss disciplinary matters.
"There are a lot of good memories, too," says Pfeifer, laughing. He was an altar sever and recalls the friendly men who lived in the rectory — Father Henry Orth, Father James O'Flynn and Father James Mosley.
Founded in 1914, Blessed Sacrament was a parish made up of blue-collar immigrants from Poland, Germany and other places. It was a bustling place with a large school at mid-century, but the school closed in the 1980s and the parish in the late 1990s when attendance had waned.
The building has been vacant for about five years. It was once a YWCA building and part of a women’s shelter.