“Oh my! Oh my! It’s beautiful.”
That was the reaction of Sharon LeConte as she walked into the new Holy Family Church in Greenville for the first time.
“I love that ‘Glory to God in the Highest’ up there,” she said, looking at the words above the sanctuary. “Oh, the windows. They did a marvelous job, just beautiful, such details.”
Beautiful, wonderful, amazing - they were words heard again and again as parishioners sat in the pews of the new church for the first time, gazing up at the sparkling stained-glass windows, gold stenciling along ceiling arches, and statues of Mary and Joseph framing the sanctuary.
“It’s beautiful,” said Doris Belmont, a parishioner since 1951. “You walk in there, and you look up at the chandeliers and at the altar, and you feel yourself lifted up.”
“I don’t think you could change it to make it better,” said Simone Squiers, her sister.
The new church, which has been under construction for nearly a year, was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Robert Deeley during a Mass celebrated on Sunday, March 4, 2018.
“Today, we come before you to dedicate to your lasting service this house of prayer, this temple of worship, this home in which we are nourished by your word and your sacraments,” the bishop said in the Prayer of Dedication.
The new Holy Family Church stands on the same spot as the former church, which was demolished last spring. Although parishioners loved the church that had been built back in the 1920s, it needed costly repairs. The foundation leaked. The towers leaned. In addition, it was poorly insulated so it was expensive to heat, and steep stairs made it difficult for elderly parishioners or those with disabilities to attend Mass. To get to the parish hall, you had to go outside and then down stairs, another barrier for many. The new church and parish hall are all on one level.
“We really didn’t like having to do it, but we knew it had to be done. There was no doubt about it,” said Barbara Crossman, who serves on the Building Committee.
“You felt bad when they closed the other church because that’s where we were married. That’s where our kids were baptized, where they made their first Communion, served as altar boys, but it needed so much repair. But when you see it [the new church], it makes up for everything,” said Belmont.
Parishioners so loved the first church that they wanted the new one to look as much like it as possible. A steeple was a must, as was keeping the beautiful stained-glass portrayals of the Holy Family, saints, and doctors of the Church.
“The church, fundamentally, has exactly the same layout of the previous church. We retained most of the original artistic work, the windows and things like that. We’re using the same cross. The church has gotten a little shorter. It’s the same width but maybe 20 percent shorter, so it’s a little more intimate,” explained Steve Bilodeau, chair of the Building Committee. “There is much better visibility because all the columns have been removed.”
While the former church could seat around 225, with the ability to add chairs on the sides, the new church seats around 165. When there is an overflow crowd, as there was for the Mass of Dedication, parishioners can gather in the adjacent hall to watch on a video screen.
It’s estimated nearly 300 people attended the first Mass in the new church. They included parishioners like Theresa Breau, who have not been able to attend Mass because of the former church’s steep stairs. Breau celebrated her 90th birthday on the day of the dedication Mass and was among those who brought up the gifts for the celebration of the Eucharist.
“I am so happy. I am so happy that I can go to church,” she said. “I can come here as much as I want. I love it. I really love it.”
The Mass of Dedication began with Bilodeau, Joe DiAngelo, and John Morrell, representing the Building Committee, ceremonially handing over the church to the bishop, presenting him with keys, blueprints, and a scrapbook.
“We, the parishioners of Holy Family Catholic Church, with heartfelt gratitude and immeasurable joy, give thanks to Almighty God for this day,” DiAngelo said. “Bishop Deeley, on behalf of everyone at Holy Family Parish, we proudly present you with the keys to your new church.”
The bishop then blessed water and, with it, sprinkled the congregation, who are the spiritual temple, and then all the walls of the church.
“As it is sprinkled upon us and throughout this church, make it a sign of the saving waters of baptism by which we become one in Christ, the temple of your Spirit,” the bishop prayed. “May all here today, and all those in days to come, who will celebrate your mysteries in this church be united at last in the holy city of your peace.”
Before the readings of the Mass, chosen especially for the church’s dedication, the Lectionary used for the first time in the new church was presented to the bishop, who showed it to the congregation, saying, “May the word of God always be heard in this place, as it unfolds the mystery of Christ before you and achieves your salvation within the Church.”
The congregation then joined in singing the Litany of Saints, after which the bishop prayed the Prayer of Dedication, dedicating the church to the Lord for all time and asking for the Lord’s blessing upon it. “Send your Spirit from heaven to make this church an ever-holy place,” the bishop prayed.
Following the Prayer of Dedication, the bishop walked through the church, using sacred chrism to anoint the walls in 12 places, signifying that the building will perpetually be used for Christian worship. Twelve is traditionally used because of its symbolism in the Scriptures. It represents fullness or completion and may also represent the 12 Tribes of Israel, who were God’s chosen people, and the 12 apostles, who were the foundation of the Church. Twelve may also represent the perfection of the eternal and heavenly Jerusalem.
Following the anointing of the walls, the people and the nave of the church were incensed by Deacon John Guerin. The incensation indicates that the dedication will make the building a house of prayer.
Incense is also burned on the altar to signify that the sacrifice of Christ and the prayers of people rise to reach the heavenly Father.
The most important and most ancient part of the rite is the celebration of the Eucharist, because it is for that purpose that the church was built. The Eucharist, in a way, consecrates the church.
“This building will become the house of God as we celebrate Eucharist and, pronouncing the prayer of the Mass, make the presence of Jesus real in our midst. He is here in the word proclaimed, and the bread and wine changed into his body and blood, and in the assembly gathered in his name to celebrate this Mass of Dedication and Thanksgiving,” the bishop said in his homily. “Jesus is with us. That is the wonder and grace of this Eucharist and every Eucharist. Jesus is with us. And, because he is, this house becomes his house. This is the house of God; this is the dwelling of God among us.”
In preparation for the Eucharist, candles were lit on the altar and around the sanctuary for the first time.
Concelebrating the Mass of Dedication with the bishop were Father Aaron Damboise, current pastor, and former pastors Father Richard Malo, Father Kevin Martin, and Father Eddy Morin.
“It’s almost surreal,” said Father Damboise. “I was sitting in the sanctuary, as the readings were being proclaimed, and thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’ God took care of everything. We’ve been very blessed.”
“It really is a wonderful place of worship, all for the glory and honor of God. It really is incredible,” said Father Martin. “I came into the building a couple days ago, prior to the liturgy today, and tears were just streaming down my face.”
“It was glorious, spectacular. It was a glimpse of heaven. It was a glimpse of the angels and just heaven on earth,” said Lorraine Auclair, parish bookkeeper, about the Mass of Dedication. “It was just so overwhelming and just so meaningful.”
“It surpassed my greatest expectations. We had so many high hopes for today, and in less than a year, they all came true; all my wishes and dreams came true,” said Bette DiAngelo, parish secretary.
Building the church was no small feat for a community that has only around 100 year-round parishioners. Greenville itself is a town of about 1600. Nonetheless, through numerous fundraisers and the generosity of parishioners, summer visitors, area businesses, other Christian churches, and organizations such as the Catholic Extension, Catholic Charities, the Knights of Columbus, and the Daughters of Isabella, most of the estimated $2.3 million dollars needed for the project has been donated or pledged.
“Obviously, the people in the community have given to the max, but we’ve really been pleasantly surprised by the giving from all different sources,” said Bilodeau.
Parishioners saw the new church as a way of paying forward what was given to them 90 years ago by the builders of the original church, so they wanted to make sure they built a church both that they loved and that would last.
The new church blends tradition with technology. The original church’s baptismal font and tabernacle are in use at the new church, as is one of the original crosses, which again sits atop the steeple. The church’s 1920 reed organ, which hadn’t worked in years, was restored and was played at the opening Mass by Paul Griffin, who attended the church as a child and is now studying sacred music.
“It’s the first organ I ever saw, and now that it’s been restored and I can play it, that was amazing,” he said.
The stained-glass windows are now backlit, which makes them glow at night. Because the positioning of the church was flipped 180 degrees, the church’s signature, Holy Family stained-glass window is now visible from the street.
“Some of the lighting features that were done actually focus light on the windows from the inside out, and the windows are so clean that when you drive by at night, you can see the hairs of the beards of the saints,” explained Joe DiAngelo. “From the school across the street, I’ve had people leaving games come up to me and say, ‘Oh my goodness. I saw your stained-glass windows. They’re gorgeous.’”
A catwalk the length of the building makes it easy to change lightbulbs and make repairs. The church also has a state-of-the-art, audio-video system, a modern heating system, and a digital carillon that can play thousands of hymns.
The Mass of Dedication was full of memorable moments, including two especially unique to this community. The Maine State Council of the Knights of Columbus presented Father Damboise with an icon of the Holy Family for display at the church. And, the bishop and parishioners acknowledged another big accomplishment for the town. The previous afternoon, the basketball team took home its first Class D state championship since 1954. One of the players, Connor DiAngelo, was an altar server at the Mass, and the gold ball was on display in the parish hall.
There are still some finishing touches to be put on the new church, but it is expected to be complete by Memorial Day. The parish also plans to renovate the rectory and make repairs to St. Joseph Church in Rockwood, a worship site that is open seasonally. Even when all that is done, parishioners know they still have more work to do — bringing more people to their new church and home to Christ.