Bishop Deeley celebrates Mass of Reparation at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Madawaska
A feeling of coming home. Parishioners said that is what it was like to be able to celebrate Mass again at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Madawaska, which had been closed since it was vandalized in early October.
“Our hearts are so filled with joy right now to be able to sit in these pews again and celebrate the Eucharist. It’s something that is hard to put into words,” said Martha Dufour, regent of the Daughters of Isabella.
“The smells, the incense, the lights, the people, the responses, the music, all of that – it was being home,” said Ann Marie Clavette, who serves at the church.
“I’m happy we’re back. It’s like coming home,” said Roger Albert, a state representative and long-time reader at St Thomas. “The church has been a centerpiece for my family."
Parishioners gathered with Bishop Robert Deeley and priests from across Aroostook County on November 30 for a Mass of Reparation. During the Mass, the bishop blessed water and then walked throughout the church sprinkling it on the altar, the walls, and the congregation.
The bishop called the Mass a new beginning for the church and the community.
“This is a holy place. We do not expect such vandalism to happen in holy places. This evening, however, we look forward. We look beyond what has happened, and we look to the future,” the bishop said. “Because of the efforts of many people, we can come together this evening to bless this church once again.”
“There is a joy to coming back, for the people to come back to the church and just being in the church where they love to be with the Lord,” said Father Kent Ouellette, pastor of Notre Dame du Mont Carmel Parish, which includes St. Thomas Aquinas Church. “I’m probably a little bit more emotional this evening because the bishop and Monsignor [Marc Caron] are here to celebrate Mass. It’s just knowing that the Church as a whole is here with us. The bishop coming and having the Mass of Reparation just touches more emotion, of joy, not of sadness but of joy.”
It is estimated the vandalism caused between $200,000 to $300,000 in damage to the church, which was insured. The altar, organ, marble walls, and tabernacle were among the items vandalized. Only the organ, which received the most extensive damage, is yet to be repaired, although representatives from Casavant Brothers visited recently to examine it. Father Ouellette said that, due to inflation, rebuilding the organ is expected to cost more than the parish originally paid for it. While it is being repaired, an organ donated by a parishioner will be used, just one of the acts of generosity that has been offered by and to the church community.
"It really makes a difference that people do care, and people know that they do," said Father Ouellette.
Father Ouellette said the community response has been among the blessings to come out of the tragedy and why he and the bishop both noted that there are reasons to be thankful despite the damage caused to the church.
“We are grateful for the parts of this tragedy that can be seen as grace. What a blessing that the custodian arrived early to work and saw the lights on. What a grace that he called the police and did not enter the building himself. He could have been hurt. What a blessing were the police who arrived and found the man still inside. They were able to move him out of the building without harm to him or them. And what a blessing was the prompt response of Father Kent Ouellette for his leadership throughout this crisis. It was he who realized the seriousness of the situation and moved all worship to St. David Church,” the bishop said. “Finally, what a blessing was this community which waited patiently for the damage to be repaired in such a way that the community could gather and see the building as sacred once again."
Parishioners said they are grateful they still had the opportunity to attend Mass the past two months and said the people of St. David Church, which is also in Madawaska, could not have been more helpful. Still, they said they are happy to return to St. Thomas Aquinas because, from baptisms to funerals, it has long been an important part of their lives.
“It’s not that we don’t like St. David, because it’s a beautiful church, but this is the one that we attend. As a child, this was where I used to come, so you kind of get attached to it. I’m glad we’re back, like everybody is,” said Deacon Don Clavette.
"You feel like you’re back home. Your community is important. Your Catholic community is important,” said Priscilla Canna.
"When I received Communion, I had tears,” said Lee St. Onge. “We’re back home. I’m just happy.”
Amid their joy at being back home, parishioners said there is still some lingering sorrow about what happened. They said they continue to pray for the healing of their church community and for the man accused of the crime and his family.