---- — St. Augustine Church held its first Christmas Eve Mass at the Collins Center this year, and the pastor of Andover’s largest Catholic parish says he expects the event to be held at the auditorium in the future.
This year, the Rev. Peter Gori celebrated the 4 p.m. Mass at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts for the very first time, in hopes of alleviating the standing room only crowds at his church on Essex Street.
Gori said about 1,300 people attended Mass at the center, which is also the auditorium for Andover High School. Churchgoers sat comfortably in padded chairs, but Gori’s longtime worry of tending to a medical emergency during a crowded Christmas Eve Mass happened.
A police report shows that an 85-year-old man collapsed at the Mass. He was taken away in an ambulance by the Andover Fire Department. Police received the distress call at 4:58 p.m. while Mass was still being said.
Gori said the man is from North Andover and is doing fine. Gori said he saw the man collapse during Mass and the pastor calmly asked if there were any doctors on hand to assist.
“Three doctors and some nurses stepped forward,” Gori said. “It was calm and the man, who has a history of fainting, was tended to,” Gori said.
Gori said getting emergency responders to a medical scene at a crowded Christmas Eve Mass has always worried him. That’s one reason why the Collins Center was used this year.
“It’s spacious and the responders have room,” he said.
The patient was quickly put on a stretcher, then rolled outside to the ambulance. Gori continued with the Mass.
“It was a joyous celebration for so many families,” he said. “I’m thrilled that so many came...we will use the Collins Center next year, absolutely.”
BY THE NUMBERS Those attending Christmas Eve Masses by St. Augustine Church, the town's largest Catholic congregation, totaled: 1,300 at Collins Center's 4 p.m. Mass 850 at Merrimack College's 4:30 p.m. Mass 388 at church's 6 p.m. Mass 332 at church's 10:30 p.m. Mass There were also 800 who attended three Masses on Christmas Day at the main Essex Street church. TOTAL: about 3,670 people Source: Church pastor Rev. Peter Gori.