Charming changes for a 100-year-old church
In 1922, a Catholic community held bazaars, box lunches, and concerts to raise money to build a new church. One hundred years later, community members stepped forward again, contributing money and labor to give the church new life. And in July, they gathered with Bishop Robert Deeley to celebrate both.
“The dedication and determination of those families from the beginning of the last century who wanted to see this church built in Oxford continues in the generosity and enthusiasm of the parishioners of this parish community today,” the bishop said. “There has been a lot of work done, and I would say it is a job well done. The church looks beautiful.”
Despite heavy rain, the pews of the newly renovated St. Mary Church in Oxford were full for a July 29th Mass commemorating the church’s centennial.
The first Mass at St. Mary was celebrated on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1923. Before then, a priest would occasionally make a 30-mile trip from Yarmouth to celebrate Mass in the home of John and Mary Quinn, and then, as the congregation grew, Masses were celebrated monthly in the local engine house.
In 1922, the Quinns donated land next to their home for a new church. Fundraisers were held, the foundation was laid, and less than a year later, the church opened.
“The Quinns were the ones behind getting it going, and all the people, a lot of them, chipped in. They all worked together,” says Michael Quinn, the Quinns’ great-grandson, who attended the centennial celebration.
At the time St. Mary was being built, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland was being remodeled, and the Oxford community benefited, receiving pews, statues, an altar, and carpeting.
What the church didn’t have was plumbing, which, parishioners recall, led to some interesting issues through the years. For instance, visiting priests would sometimes not realize they needed to bring water to be used for consecration and would have to go to a neighbor’s house to get it. And because there were no pipes, the heat would only be turned on for Masses but not necessarily in time to take the chill out.
“In the summer, most people wanted to sit in the pews that were close to the fans because the church was hot, but in the winter, the people wanted to sit up front by the grate so they could get the heat from the furnace,” says Brenda Sturdivant, who has been attending the church since the 1970s.
“We would go in sometimes and there would be a skim of ice over the holy water,” says Patricia O’Brien, another longtime parishioner.
St. Mary is no longer open year-round, but that hasn’t diminished parishioners’ love for the small church. They faithfully return each year once Memorial Day arrives.
“We got married here in 1965. It’s just quaint. It’s a little country church. I love it,” says Bonnie Smith.
“It’s small, and it’s cozy, and you feel at home and sacred there,” says Gary Smith, her husband.
“It’s such a blessing to have this church,” says Sturdivant. “When it opens in the summer, it’s so nice to see your old friends who come back, because there are so many people who are just summer people, who are on Thompson Lake and at the camps.”
When summer visitors returned this year, they found a lot of improvements, some more visible than others. There are new shingles on the roof, a new steeple cross, new heat pumps, new electrical wiring, and new paint covering both the tin ceiling and the walls of the church.
Parishioners also ripped out the old carpeting. They planned to replace it until they discovered the maple hardwood floors that had been covered up.
“We saw these beautiful hardwood floors underneath, except there were places where there was tar paper and tar down the middle in the back, so we had to dig that out,” says Sue Paquin, who guided the renovation project. “Everyone was on the floor on their hands and knees down there, doing the work.”
“A lot of sweat equity went into that,” says Bob Rose, a parishioner and local contractor.
The church’s pews were also replaced with ones that came from the former St. James Church in Thomaston. They’re shorter in length, creating side aisles where none previously existed.
“They fit perfectly over here,” says Rose. “There is less capacity, but it gives the church a much nicer look.”
The improvements were made possible through St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish’s “Alive in Hope” capital campaign and other generous donations, which also funded ongoing renovations to St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway and the creation of a new worship site at Our Lady of Ransom Church in Mechanic Falls.
“Our Lady of Ransom is wonderful, and this — you would never know it’s the same church that you came to,” says Sturdivant. “It is beautiful.”
“It was absolutely breathtaking when I walked in for the first time and saw what they had done,” says Linda Jack, a parishioner.
“It’s so pretty. I love it,” says Marcella Kugell, a great-granddaughter of the Quinns.
Adding to the beauty of the centennial celebration were 100 red roses donated by Bob and Janis Rose and a new chalice and paten donated by Steve and Catherine Bravo in memory of Catherine’s parents.
Also contributing to the ambience were two antique cars parked outside, including a 1923 Ford Model T, which was used to give the bishop a ride from the church to the community center for the reception that was held following the Mass.