“You don’t think this is ever going to happen to your church”: Landmark Maine church prepares for sale

“You don’t think this is ever going to happen to your church”: Landmark Maine church prepares for sale August 25, 2013

Photo: Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Details, from the Lewiston-Auborn Sun Journal: 

Few prayers remain for St. Louis Catholic Church.

The neo-Gothic landmark still sits just as it did when its last congregation gathered there in April. Stacks of spring fliers now gather dust on a table near the broad front doors facing Third Street. The grand nave — with its columns, arched ceiling and finely detailed stained glass — awaits a congregation and a priest’s message.

The church, however, may soon be gone.

Needed repairs to the brick structure and dilapidated roof are estimated to cost more than $1 million, far more than Auburn’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish can afford.

Bishop Richard Malone, who serves as the apostolic administrator for Maine’s Roman Catholic Diocese, has given his approval for the 98-year-old church to be torn down if a sale cannot be completed in a timely fashion, according to a diocese spokesman.

All that remains is a final decision by the Rev. Robert Lariviere to sell or raze. The priest, who took over the parish in June, has yet to make that decision.

“We will see what happens,” Lariviere said.

A last Mass has been scheduled for Aug. 29 at 5:30 p.m.

For many families, it will mark an era’s end.

Linda Bartlett recently stood a few feet from the pew where her family always sat — four rows back from the middle aisle — and imagined it might all be gone.

“You don’t think it’s ever going to happen to your church,” she said.

The 53-year-old director of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish grew up attending Mass here with her family and going to classes next door at St. Louis School.

“You went to school with the kids who came to church with their families,” she said. “Everybody knew everybody. This was a community.”

The church was created during a Catholic boom in Lewiston-Auburn. Lewiston already had St. Joseph’s, St. Patrick’s and St. Peter’s. St. Louis parish was created in 1902 and served the mostly French-Canadian neighborhood in New Auburn. Parishioners first gathered in the new church’s basement. Then, when they raised enough money, they set to work on the tall, two-spired upper church, designed by architect Timothy G. O’Connell. O’Connell designed St. Mary’s Church in Lewiston’s Little Canada neighborhood and would later design the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston.

Workers placed St. Louis’ cornerstone in May 1915.

As much as the new church changed the look of the neighborhood, rising above the houses, shops and tenements, it became the focal point for community activity.

At its peak, the church and its school served between 1,000 and 1,200 families, said Gerard Dennison, who grew up nearby. The adjacent St. Louis School, which burned in a catastrophic 1933 fire but was rebuilt the following year, had 500 students.

Read more, and see the sad honor roll of other Maine churches that have recently closed.

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