Members of Holy Family Parish in Greenville want to ensure a bright future for their community. Unfortunately, it means parting with a beloved piece of their present and past. They plan to demolish their nearly 90-year-old church to build a new one on the same site.
“This church was built for us, and our generation took full advantage of it, and now, it’s our spiritual duty to provide something for our children and our children’s children,” says Leslie Bilodeau, a parishioner.
“Nobody wants to lose their church. I was married in this church. Our kids were baptized in this church, and I think it’s a hard thing to think about having to lose your church, but it’s very exciting to think about building a new church,” says Bette DiAngelo, a lifelong parishioner and parish administrative assistant.
The current church, built in 1927, is in need of costly repairs. As Steve Bilodeau, chair of the Building Committee, will tell you, “The bones of the church are not good.”
He explains, “The foundation leaks. The towers are leaning. The roof is bad.”
In addition, the church isn’t well insulated, so it’s expensive to heat, and there are steep stairs leading into the nave, as well as down into the parish hall, which is only accessible by going outside. That makes it difficult for the elderly and those with disabilities to attend Mass or church gatherings.
“We’ve been talking about it for probably eight or 10 years, that the building has been deteriorating, and we’ve been putting Band-Aids on it, trying to keep it, but it’s gotten to the point that it’s better to invest in a new building,” says Elizabeth Foote, a member of the Development Committee. “People before us, in our community, had done this for us, had created this, built this for us. It’s time to pay it forward and continue it. I think everybody would like to have a church in town, and we would like to have one where everybody can attend Mass.”
The parish launched its “Beginning a New Century of Faith” capital campaign this July, aiming to raise the $1.7 million dollars needed to build a new church, along with an adjoining parish hall and offices. The rectory next door will be renovated, including the addition of a one-car garage. In an area with only about 2,500 year-round residents, raising the money won’t be easy, but parishioners are determined to make it happen.
“One-hundred years ago, our ancestors found a way to fundraise and build this church that we all love so much, and we’re in a spot right now where it’s our turn to provide that same effort, those same prayers, that same calling to provide the same type of church that everyone will love for the next 100 years,” says Joe DiAngelo, a member of the Building Committee and the Development Committee.
The type of church that people want is what they already have, according to committee members, who spent months getting parishioners’ input.
“We’re used to a beautiful church that we’ve had for a century, and we’re trying to do as well as we could to replicate that,” says Steve.
The result is a plan that embraces tradition while envisaging tomorrow. All 18 nave and sanctuary stained-glass windows will be restored and reinstalled in the new church in the same spots where they are currently located. The original confessionals and woodwork, tabernacle, and baptismal font will be incorporated into the new church, with the sanctuary looking much like the current one. The new church will also include a spire, with the current cross memorial reinstalled on top.
“We’ve preserved a lot of the history of the church, and I think that’s important because everyone in this community loves this church, not just the Catholic community,” says Bette. “To rebuild something that is very familiar is going to be just outstanding.”
One of the most significant changes is that the church, offices, and parish hall will all be on a single level, with entry from the parking lot instead of the street. Folks will be able to drive up, drop off a loved one under a covered entrance, and then park, in spaces wide enough to accommodate pick-up trucks, which are common in the Moosehead Lake Region.
The church’s Holy Family statue will be placed on the facade of the covered entrance. The church bell, now hidden, will be visible in the belfry above.
“It’s going to be fully operational, but you’ll get to enjoy it,” says Steve. “The bell will be just above the ceiling, and you’ll be able to see it as you walk in.”
The building was also designed to include a 12-foot wide cupola above the narthex, where parishioners first enter, and the narthex itself will be warmly lit.
“The narthex is something we spent a lot of time on because we wanted you to feel, as soon as you went in there, that you were in a special place,” says Steve.
Once inside, the offices, now located in the rectory, will be on the right, the church on the left, and the parish hall straight ahead. Because the offices will be located in the same building, it will allow the church to remain open more often than it is now.
The church will have a high ceiling, necessary to accommodate the stained-glass windows, and it will have a balcony, as it does now. The pews, however, will be new. Good Shepherd Parish in Saco donated 20 white oak pews, which were once in the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec convent in Old Orchard Beach. They will be placed over new carpeting, with increased spacing between them.
“We actually set them up on the grass and made sure they were separated enough so that when you flip them up, you can walk in the pews,” says Steve.
The church will be smaller than the current one, decreasing from 48 feet wide to 42 feet wide. While the current church can seat 227 people, the new one will have pew space for 143, with room to add chairs and expand capacity to 170. That will accommodate the significant rise in attendance that occurs during the summer months, when there are many visitors to the area.
“From a worship standpoint, it’s going to feel very similar,” says Steve.
The church, however, will face in the opposite direction. While not the reason for the change, Steve says it should mean that the sun will shine more brightly through the striking, stained-glass windows over the altar.
In addition, the windows, bell, and spire can be lit at night, with a timer turning lights on and off.
The parish hall will have the capacity to seat over 150 people and will include a new kitchen and pantry. Parishioners wanted a hall not just for parish functions but that would serve the wider community, too.
“It’s a nice opportunity, when you do a project like this, to kind of reenergize the community, get people back to the church,” says Bette.
If fundraising goes well, the plan is to demolish the current church next May. The goal would then be to complete the exterior of the building, the church sanctuary, and the nave by December 2017. The following year, the offices and hall would be built, followed by rectory renovations.
Even some who admit they were hesitant about the project at first have been won over by the carefully laid-out plans.
“They showed the beautiful pictures, and all the little details they put into it. I said, ‘There is no other way to go. We have to go this way,’” says Nilsa Guerin, a parishioner. “It’s just perfect for us.”
“I’m in love with this project, and the reason I am is because it’s the people’s project. It’s coming from the ground up,” says Deacon John Guerin. “This is something that people want, and I think that it’s going to be Saint Francis’ way of rebuilding the Church.”
Parishioners say that is what is truly at the heart of their plans.
“This isn’t just about bricks and mortar,” says Joe. “This is about our faith community.”
“I think that it’s going to rejuvenate the community. I think everybody is going to be excited about a new church being here. And it’s going to, hopefully, bring people who have been away from the church, back to the church,” says Bette.
“It’s a physical and a spiritual endeavor. The two go hand in hand,” says Leslie. “I’m hoping that the new church will be more family friendly. It will have better spaces to have catechism classes, and it will just call people home.”