“It was glorious.”
That is how Lorraine Auclair, bookkeeper of Holy Family Parish, describes the dedication Mass for the new Holy Family Church in Greenville.
“It was a glimpse of heaven. It was a glimpse of the angels and just heaven on earth,” she says. “It was just so overwhelming and just so meaningful.”
Parish secretary Bette DiAngelo says the Mass surpassed even her greatest expectations.
“We had so many high hopes for today, and in less than a year, they all came true,” she says. “All my wishes and dreams came true.”
“It’s almost surreal,” says Father Aaron Damboise, pastor. “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.”
The new church, which had been under construction for nearly a year, was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Robert Deeley on Sunday, March 4.
“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 prayed in the Prayer of Dedication. “Send your Spirit from heaven to make this church an ever-holy place.”
In his homily, the bishop called the new church “the very embodiment of love,” saying, “There is such faith and hope in the building of a new church.”
And it was with faith and hope that this rural parish community made the difficult decision two years ago to demolish their beloved 90-year-old church and to build anew. It was not a decision they wanted to make but one they determined that they had to make because the church needed costly repairs. It’s foundation and a roof above the chapel leaked. The towers leaned. The building was also poorly insulated and had steep stairs leading into the church and down to the parish hall, a barrier for the elderly and those with disabilities.
“We really didn’t like it, but we knew it had to be done. There was no doubt about it,” says Theresa Davis, a longtime parishioner, who says she avoided going by the site for two weeks after the church was torn down.
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 an arching ceiling, and keeping the beautiful stained-glass portrayals of the Holy Family, saints, and doctors of the Church.
“One of my first thoughts was that the other building communicated something very important about the Catholic faith both on the inside and on the outside, and that needed to be part of our vision,” says Father Damboise. “I think it sends a message that this is God’s house, and we’re God’s family, and you’re part of that when you come in.”
The parish launched its “Beginning a New Century of Faith” capital campaign in 2016, seeking to raise more than $2 million. It was a daunting amount for a parish community with only around 100 year-round parishioners, located in a rural town of 1,600. Parishioners, however, saw it as a way of paying forward what was given to them by the original builders.
“We wanted it to look like a true church, more of an old-fashioned church but, yet, have modern amenities,” says Barbara Crossman, a member of the Building Committee. “We wanted everything to be high quality.”
“We made a great effort to not kick the can down the road with anything, meaning that maybe the next people can worry about it. We have not done that,” says John Morrell, a member of the Building Committee. “We’ve gone to great pains on that.”
“I think the congregation suffered with the ills of facilities’ issues for a long time, and we all had the heart to make sure that wasn’t going to continue,” says Steve Bilodeau, chair of the Building Committee.
Numerous fundraisers were held to make their dream come true, everything from bake sales, to bottle drives, to a golf tournament. It became a true community effort. Summer visitors to the Moosehead Lake Region contributed, as did businesses, other Christian churches, and organizations such as the Catholic Extension, Catholic Charities, the Knights of Columbus, and the Daughters of Isabella.
“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,” says Bilodeau.
“For a small, in the woods parish with not a very huge population to have within a year raised almost two million dollars and raised this house of God is nothing short of miracle after miracle. I’ve seen it over and over again,” says Auclair.
“I think it speaks well for the community because it was not just the Catholics; there were a lot of other people involved, too. To me, it’s a minor miracle,” says Father Richard Malo, who was among three former pastors who concelebrated the dedication Mass. “A lot of people from away really helped with the funding and stuff to promote and have such a building -- a good worship space and a good community hall. I think that’s really great.”
Parishioners couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
“It certainly worked out well, didn’t it?” says Davis. “I like everything, just everything.”
“Oh my! Oh my! It’s beautiful. I love that ‘Glory to God in the Highest,’” says Sharon LeConte, her gaze taking in the gold stenciling above the sanctuary. “Oh, the windows. They did a marvelous job, just beautiful.”
“I think it’s extraordinary. It’s done in such a way that it really makes you feel like you’re in a place of God when you walk in,” says John Fontes, a Knight of Columbus. “It’s just really heartwarming.”
“It’s beautiful. You walk in there, and you look up at the chandeliers and at the altar, and you feel yourself lifted up,” says Doris Belmont, a parishioner since her family moved to Greenville in 1951. “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, it makes up for everything.”
“I don’t think you could change it to make it better,” says Simone Squiers, her sister. “It’s just unreal. It’s so beautiful. You can’t really explain it unless you go and see it.”
The new Holy Family Church combines the charm of a country church with the elegance of a cathedral. It is the same width as the original church, but one-fifth shorter, making it more intimate and brighter because the windows are closer together.
The stained-glass windows were professionally cleaned and are now backlit, making them glow at night. Because the positioning of the church was flipped 180 degrees, the church’s signature, Holy Family window now faces the street.
“The windows are so clean that when you drive by at night, you can see the hairs of the beards of the saints,” says 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.’”
“They just are spectacular. They are absolutely crystal clear, and you can see all of the beauty of the windows at night,” says Bilodeau.
The original tabernacle and baptismal font were placed in the new church, and the church’s 1927 Etsey reed organ, which hadn’t worked in years, was restored. The church invited Paul Griffin, who attended the church as a child and is now studying sacred music, to play it at the opening Mass.
“It’s the first organ I ever saw, and now that it’s been restored, and I can play it, that was amazing,” he says. “It was really nice to come home to play the organ for the people I grew up with.”
The statues of Mary and Joseph that now frame the sanctuary are new additions but date back to the mid to late 1800s. They were obtained through a company specializing in religious artifacts, as was the tabernacle holder donated by Deacon John and Nilsa Guerin. An icon of the Holy Family, blessed by Pope Francis, was given to the parish at the end of the dedication Mass by the Maine State Council of the Knights of Columbus. The pews came from the former convent of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.
The church also features modern amenities such as a digital carillon that can play thousands of hymns, radiant heating, and an audio-video system that can be used to watch the Mass in the adjacent parish hall when there is an overflow crowd, as there was for the dedication Mass. A catwalk the length of the church makes it easier to change lightbulbs and make repairs.
“It really is a wonderful place of worship, all for the glory and honor of God. It really is incredible,” says Father Kevin Martin, former pastor. “I came into the building a couple days ago, prior to the liturgy today, and tears were just streaming down my face.”
The church, parish hall, and offices are all connected through the narthex, and all are on the same level, with no stairs. For parishioners like Theresa Breau that meant being able to attend Mass for the first time in years. Breau, who turned 90 on the day of the dedication, 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 says. “I love it. I really love it. When the bell rang the other day, I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ And then, when I heard the organ, let me tell you it was something.”
“It’s a very good church, a very nice church,” says Louis Boucher, who, like Breau, has mobility issues. “I’m glad to be here.”
The dedication of a Church is considered one of the most solemn liturgies. At Holy Family, the Mass began with members of the parish’s Building Committee ceremonially turning over the church to the bishop by 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,” Joe 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 holy water, “a sign of the saving waters of baptism,” and sprinkled it throughout the church and on the congregation.
Following the Liturgy of the Word, the bishop offered the Prayer of Dedication and then used sacred chrism, the same oil used for baptism and confirmation, to anoint the walls of the church in 12 places, signifying that the building will perpetually be a place of Christian worship. Twelve is traditionally used because of its symbolism in the Scriptures. It represents fullness or completion and may also represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who were God’s chosen people, and the Twelve 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, incense was burned on the altar to indicate that Christ’s sacrifice and the prayers of the people rise to reach the heavenly Father. The congregation and church were then incensed by Deacon John Guerin.
The most ancient and essential part of the rite is the celebration of the Eucharist, because it is for that purpose that the church was built.
“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,” the bishop said.
For parishioners who have worked so hard to make the new church a reality, the dedication day was an emotional one.
“It was just beautiful, absolutely beautiful. In fact, I almost cried at the end. I had to stop singing,” says Joe DiAngelo. “You forget how beautiful our celebration is. So many little things are just so special, and to witness it and all our priests there together, and the choir, and the organ.”
“It was kind of bittersweet at the beginning because I remember Masses when I was a little girl here, and I thought, ‘Our old church is gone.’ But this felt like our old church but newer, and it felt so welcoming,” says Jeri Gilbert, a member of the Building Committee who has attended the church her entire life.
“It’s really amazing that I get to witness this happening, because I’ll come back when I’m older and be able to see that it’s still here and remember all the work that was put into it,” says Connor DiAngelo, age 17, an altar server. “I think it’s really going to spark an interest in the Church.”
Members of the parish say they hope the new church is a sign to others that the Catholic faith is very much alive in the Moosehead Lake Region.
“I’ve already had people come up to me saying, ‘Deacon John, I want to join the church,’” says Deacon Guerin.
“Just the fact that it’s new is getting people to think more deeply about their faith,” says Father Damboise. “It’s a new endeavor, and it showed us that we could take on a big project and do it well. I think it’s given the community the confidence it needs to move forward with some other things that have been a challenge, especially bringing in younger people.”
Father Damboise says the new church has given the town a boost as well.
“This town, like a lot of towns, has been struggling with decisions around economics and vitality, and to see a project like this really come to fruition has been important,” he says. “They feel it’s giving life to the town, especially since some of them know that we’re going to be prepared to serve the community in an even better way.”
He points, for instance, to the parish’s new community hall.
“It’s going to be completely accessible,” he says. “There are not many facilities in this town of this caliber that are accessible, that have up-to-date audio-visual accessories.”
The recessional hymn for the dedication Mass was “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” an appropriate choice because parishioners say they couldn’t be more thankful to God for everything He has given them.
“It’s been one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Joe DiAngelo. “I feel blessed.”
“We’re just so blessed with this, oh my gosh. We’re just very blessed,” says Squiers. “Thank God for all this. It’s unbelievable.”