A midday fire roared through a landmark 127-year-old church on Long Island Tuesday as onlookers watched in horror.
"It was a church that I love," said parish building manager Carol Lee, as she fought back tears. "It's only a building but it holds the memories of generations."
The original St. John's church was built by Czech immigrants in Bohemia in 1885. Many in Bohemia know it simply as the "Little Church."
"It's devastating, totally devastating," said Barbara Tenney. Some of her children, Tenney explained, were baptized in the church.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, according to Suffolk County police. Six departments extinguished the fire in about an hour, encountering a wall of flames when they arrived.
"It was about 12 feet high, pretty bad," said Russell Catapano, the owner of a deli across the street.
No one was injured.
The firefighters' quick response was credited with salvaging some of the church, but they were forced to destroy most of the stained-glass windows that were original to the building.
"It's heartbreaking," said the Rev. Joseph Schlafer. "We hold this building, we cherish it, we respect it, we love it."
The "Little Church" has not hosted daily services since the 1980s, but it has long been the home of the Roman Catholic parish's youth ministry.
Young people who took part in that ministry were among those who watched the church ravaged by fire.
"It hurts because it was a second home," said Andrew O'Rourke. "We were here all the time. It's a big blow to the heart."