A bittersweet farewell to a neighborhood church
For years, Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in Springvale was a place where parishioners felt at home.
“It was a nice, tight-knit community of parishioners. Many walked to church,” says Mark Hegarty.’
“It was always a welcoming, homey parish,” says Robert Tyler who lives just up the hill from the church. “We knew each other, and we talked to each other. We would go to breakfast after Mass.”
But now, new traditions and ties will need to be formed because on Saturday, February 11, Bishop Robert Deeley gathered with parishioners to celebrate the final Mass at the beloved church.
“A moment like this is bittersweet,” the bishop said. “We look back fondly on all the graced moments that happened in this church and we give thanks. And yet, we acknowledge that there is a sadness in our parting from here.”
“It’s kind of hard on me to see this church close. I thought someday when I pass, I would be going down this hallway. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen,” says Tyler, who attended the church for 40 years. “It has meant a lot to me because I wasn’t raised Catholic, and I became Catholic in this parish.”
The final Mass, which was held on the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, was an opportunity for parishioners to gather one last time to share memories and reflect on what the neighborhood church has meant to their lives.
“That was a second home to me,” says Germaine Nobert who served as a sacristan in the late 1950s when she attended Notre Dame de Lourdes School and later became an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. “It was a wonderful family. It was a small community. Everybody knew everybody.”
“It was the tightness and the closeness of that section of our community,” says Hegarty. “Because of that, the church was full every week.”
“A lot of people would attend the church because it was closer to [Mousam] Lake,” says Lori, his wife, who was a member of the folk group choir for many years.
“Fifty-two years ago tomorrow, my husband and I were married right here. So, I have a lot of memories from here,” recalls Julie Kostis. “When I was a child, my mother was the organist in this church for years and years. At almost every Mass, she would play.”
“To me, it’s my childhood and the community, growing up in this church,” says Laurie Gaudreau, Julie’s daughter. “I was in the first group of girl altar servers that were allowed here.”
“I served for Bishop [Michael] Cote when he first became bishop,” says Jeff Kostis, Julie’s son. “We had the Mass right here and the big celebration.”
“He was a friend of our family. He grew up not too far from the church,” says Julie.
“That’s what we mean by the close-knit community. Everybody knew everybody,” says Jeff.
The church that served parishioners in recent years, with its distinct turquoise, green, and white windows, opened in 1963, but the history of the Catholic community in Springvale goes back to the late 1800s. In 1887, Notre Dame de Lourdes became the first Catholic parish to be established in the area, with the first church opening three years later.
“Transportation was meager in those days before the automobile. It was a task to get to other towns. If people were going to receive the sacraments with any regularity, they needed a church nearby,” the bishop noted in his homily.
“Sanford was just a small spot on the map, not very highly populated until the mills came down here,” says Patrick Demers, a lifelong parishioner. “When they had the first Masses here in Springvale, the priest came from Rochester [New Hampshire], and he came by train. The railroad came right through here.”
With the cotton mills drawing more workers to the area, a larger worship space was soon needed. A new building, which included a church, parish hall, and school, opened in 1916. Then, in the 1960s, the current church was built just across the parking lot.
In front of the church stood a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was donated by Ernest and Lorraine Sevigny. Together, the couple raised 16 children, all of whom attended the school and church.
“I especially enjoyed seeing our grandchildren become altar servers, on occasion singing in the folk group choir on Sundays and being part of Easter and Christmas plays the parish put on each year,” says Lorraine, age 99. “Although it was bittersweet to attend Notre Dame’s last, official final Mass on February 11, 2023, I am so thankful and feel so blessed that we were so much a part of these important celebrations while raising our children at Notre Dame Parish for so many years.”
The statue will now have a new home at Holy Family Church in Sanford, as will these parishioners. Notre Dame had been used sparingly in recent years, so most had already begun to attend Mass there.
“I’ve adapted to it. I still enjoy the small area here, but you have to kind of go with the times,” says Julie Kostis.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not where you worship, it’s how firm you stand,” says Nobert. “It’s the same God in both places.”
“We have to change with the times, and we’re still close with a lot of these people,” says Lori Hegarty.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish made the decision to close Notre Dame de Lourdes to save on the high cost of maintenance and heat and so that resources could be dedicated to invigorating the Holy Family campus, which also includes St. Thomas School. There are hopes of building a new pastoral center.
“It’s a bittersweet moment because we are closing this church and selling the property, ending a long legacy of Catholicism in this area, but we’re not doing that because it’s a contraction. We’re doing it because we want to build a parish center and have Holy Family Church become the center of Catholicism in Sanford: Holy Family Church, our parish hall, the school right across the street. I like to call it the ‘Catholic corner of Sanford.’ It’s the first corner you come to of significance in Sanford,” says Father Wilfred Labbe, pastor.
While parishioners understand why Notre Dame closed, they say it is still difficult to say goodbye.
“It’s going to be hard for us in this community and the people who came here for so many years,” says Tyler. “I’m going to miss it. I love this church.”