From Forgotten New England: Lowell’s Sacred Heart School Fire, 1967

Over on the “Forgotten New England” blog there’s another installment in the Fires of Lowell, Massachusetts series. This story of the Sacred Heart School fire in 1967 tears at my memory, my heartstrings and the fabric of my family history. My grandfather – Patrick J. Kirwin was a member of the first class to graduate from the Sacred Heart School. His brother Fr. William J. Kirwin, OMI was pastor in the 1930s – the park on Lawrence Street was dedicated to his memory. My father Jim Kirwin and his eight siblings – Fr. Bill, Margaret, Ellen, Jack, Mary, Agnes, Jane and Henry – and assorted cousins attended. I spent a few years there myself as did my brothers Jimmy and Billy. In fact, my husband Bill Sweeney and I first met in Sister Rita’s kindergarten oh so many years ago. The Sacred Heart alums are all family –  by blood or by shared experience and love for the parish and the school. The church is closed and the school buildings gone or shuttered but the connection remains alive. The Oblates are remembered – the Sisters of St. Mary de Namur are too.

I remember the shock and sadness on my father’s face as he stood looking at the fire-ravaged remains of the Sacred Heart School building back in the Spring of 1967. His was just one of many sad hearts that day. Here is the opening exerpt from the Forgotten New England blog post – follow the link to read the whole article:


Fire of Lowell, Massachusetts – Sacred Heart School, 1967

On a cool, cloudy Saturday afternoon in early May 1967, two men simultaneously spotted the billowing smoke escaping from the first-story windows of Sacred Heart School’s “new building” on its Moore Street campus in Lowell, Massachusetts.  John J. McWilliams, an off-duty police officer, ran and activated the fire alarm at a nearby fire-box.  John Sickles, a Tewksbury resident who happened to be driving past the scene, drove to the nearby Lawrence Street firehouse and notified the firefighters inside.

Marked with a black arrow above, Sacred Heart School’s “new” building once fronted Lowell’s Moore Street.

At 58 years old, the “new building” was the newer of Sacred Heart School’s two school buildings on the corner of Moore and Andrews Streets in the city’s South Lowell neighborhood.  Its cornerstone had been laid on October 9, 1909 by Lowell native and then-Archbishop William H. O’Connell, who later became a Cardinal.  By 1967, the school, which served the children of parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish located across Moore Street, had grown to include the “old” and “new” buildings that served some 600 students, from grades 1-8.  The building now burning housed the younger children, through Grade 4.  The older children attended classes in the “old building”, which standing just 25 feet away, was threatened by the raging fire too.

Read more here. 

2 Responses to From Forgotten New England: Lowell’s Sacred Heart School Fire, 1967

  1. bill sheehan says:

    i was away in the ARMY at Ft Lewis, Wash.–my mother actually sent me a
    telegram–i went to the post commanders office to pick it up went back to thje
    barracks and cried all night, you are absolutly right about the connection still goes
    on–we buried my mother last friday and the turnout form sacred heart alumni
    really made my day. my family is still sacred heart through and through.
    thank you, marie.

  2. Kathleen. Sheehan says:

    I was 10 years old and remember we had halfday sessions after the fire. I lived down the street from Sacred Heart on Andrews St. I watched the fire. Itwas sad but I remember our principal had a plastic Statue of theBlessed Mother. With head up and hands folded in prayer and wen we got back to school. After the. Fire. That statue survived the fire only thing that happened was the head bowed