TOWNSEND -- A new building has risen from the ashes just above the common.
In January 2012, the parish hall at St. John the Evangelist burned, leaving the active parish with no place for religious education for the 400 students in grades 1 through 10.
"Classes were on hold. We had to scramble," said the Rev. Jeremy St. Martin, pastor of the parish. He arrived in town two days after the fire.
The church began a "catch-as-catch-can" campaign. Large group classes were held in the church for students in grades 9 and 10 preparing for the sacrament of confirmation. Families of younger children received catechism books for teaching at home.
"Of course, that's not ideal," St. Martin said.
For a time, a temporary building installed in summer 2012 housed the classes. It was removed during the construction process.
Two years after the fire, a new building, the St. John's Parish Center, opened with a temporary occupancy permit. Eight new classrooms and an office now accommodate the eight classes held between Sunday morning masses.
The church is preparing the building for June 21, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, a major church celebration after Easter.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, from the Archdiocese of Boston, is scheduled to say the 5 p.m. Mass on that Saturday. St. Martin is hoping the cardinal will have time to stay in Townsend for more festivities, including a procession around the parish grounds or the common and a meal.
Corpus Christi is one of the days the Catholic church encourages parishes to hold a procession. St. Martin compared the spectacle to something people may be familiar with from movies or feast days in Italian neighborhoods.
A consecrated host is displayed in a monstrance, an ornate holder that can be held high. Participants can see the sacred object during the march honoring the body and blood of Christ.
"Everyone should have a procession with a bishop," he said. Cardinal O'Malley was and remains a bishop.
The common is home to three Christian churches and another is in West Townsend. St. Martin said he hopes all of the churches will celebrate the dedication. An Ashby church donated money for new Bibles to replace those burned in the fire.
The new building not only means more space for classes, once the exterior work is complete, it means more parking spaces. Often, people use the church lot for other events on the common, St. Martin said.
The lot once occupied by the burned building will become parking. Stones from the foundation were used to change the landscaping to allow for a ramp.
Building codes and green construction led to a building "full of happy accidents," St. Martin said.
Lights are tripped by motion detectors, no need to turn a switch. Insulation required around the foundation resulted in a knee wall, making a shelf underneath the windows on one side of the building.
Church building codes require large windows in classroom doors. Light shines through the rooms into the central hallway as a result.
St. John's also wants to have a larger meeting hall someday. The second floor of the new parish center is currently unfinished. When funds allow, it might be completed as a gathering space.
The designers used an unusual plan to make both floors handicap accessible. Each story has a ground-level entrance; there is no elevator. The door to the second floor is on the same level as the current meeting hall, Father Mealey Hall, and someday a covered walkway might connect the two buildings.
Some of the funding came from insurance and fundraising but parishioners have given in-kind donations to make construction possible.
One of Danny Tocci's first tasks during the first summer he worked full-time with his father at Sean Tocci Excavation was to work on the new church building. The Toccis dug the foundation and funded the construction of the stone walls.
The not-quite-finished building has already met a big challenge. Despite the worse than normal winter weather, there have been no problems with water or ice.
"It really passed that test with flying colors," St. Martin said.