A church community's transformative undertaking
Nearly every day from November to March, you could find Paul Heneghan of Bridgton hard at work inside the hall of Our Lady of Ransom Church in Mechanic Falls.
“There is a lot of work, a lot of work,” he says, as he sands an oak board. “Each piece is a five-step process. You put on a conditioner first; then you stain it; then you seal it; then you polyurethane it. Then, when it goes up, it gets another coat of polyurethane so it shines.”
From installing the ceiling beams to putting in the piping, Heneghan spent hundreds of hours helping to transform the hall into a new worship site, leading the many volunteers who stepped forward to help.
“Everybody can say, ‘Oh, I did that,’ or ‘I painted that wall,’ or ‘I cleaned those windows.’ Everybody did a little job, and it all got done,” says Ellen Andrews of Waterford.
“This is a culmination of just a village of people coming together and making it happen,” says Beth Bowie of Mechanic Falls.
Converting the hall into a church was an undertaking eight years in the making. In 2015, St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish was forced to close and later demolish the former Our Lady of Ransom Church due to mold and other issues that could not be corrected.
“It was in the walls. It was terrible,” says Josephine “Josie” Hebert of Mechanic Falls. “It broke our hearts.”
Parishioners began worshiping in the parish hall with the aim of converting it into a church. A renovations committee, chaired by Hebert, was formed, and in 2018, several classrooms in the building were removed to create a new gathering space so that work could begin renovating the larger, original hall.
That same year, the parish launched a capital campaign to raise money not only for the Our Lady of Ransom renovations but for improvements at the parish’s other churches in Norway and Oxford.
When the goal was reached, hopes were high, but they would soon be in danger of being dashed. The COVID-19 pandemic hit. Available contractors became scarce, and construction prices soared.
“Only one bid was received, and the proposed quote far exceeded what the parish had available or was willing to spend on what otherwise was a modest plan,” says Father Edward Clifford, pastor.
Rather than be deterred, parishioners took on much of the work themselves, most especially Heneghan, a retired contractor and member of the Knights of Columbus, who had already rebuilt the sanctuary at St. Joseph Church in Bridgton, where Father Clifford also serves.
Heneghan says when Father Clifford approached him, he couldn’t say no.
“I think the world of him. He is the best,” Heneghan says.
The list of volunteers included Alan Wilson, John “Rusty” D’Amour, Tom Dobens, Frank Federico, Susan Paquin, and David Saar, among many others. Local contractor Bob Rose, who is also a parishioner, saw the project through to completion, while Ouellet Construction was hired to do exterior work, including constructing an entrance with a bell tower.
“It was a momentous day for parishioners to see the peaked roof installed and the steeple and a golden cross affixed to the top,” says Father Clifford.
As he was working on the project back in March, Heneghan predicted that “it will be out of this world when it is finished.” And the reactions of the parishioners who gathered for the blessing of the new church will tell you that he was right.
“I am pleased, very pleased, excited. I think it’s beautiful, beautiful,” says Louise Roberts, from the town of Poland, who has been attending Our Lady of Ransom for 68 years.
“It’s just phenomenal,” says Hebert. “It’s a dream come true, and I want to shout it from the highest tops of the mountains.”
“I love it. It’s so nice. We’ll be able to really participate in the Mass by kneeling and standing and sitting. It will be a joy,” says Lorraine White of Minot.
The first Mass at the new church was celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley on June 11, Corpus Christi Sunday. The Mass began in the parking lot where Patricia O’Brien, chair of the Pastoral Council, and Hebert, offered brief remarks and where the bishop was presented with the architect’s plans. The church was designed by Lassel Architects from South Berwick.
Plans in hand, the bishop invited Father Clifford to “please open the doors to this new church.”
Once everyone had processed inside, the bishop walked through the church and narthex, sprinkling the walls and the congregation with holy water, asking God to “dwell in this house of prayer, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, cleanse us who are the temple where he prays.”
Nearly 175 people attended the first Mass, so many that the small church was filled, as were seats in the narthex.
A handful also watched from the parish hall.
“On this beautiful day, cherish the gift that is this church, but cherish even more the gift that is celebrated here, the Eucharist, God’s gift of Himself to us. Truly, never forget how blessed we are in the love God shows us,” the bishop told the congregation.
Joining Bishop Deeley and Father Clifford for the first Mass were Father Arockia Natha Prabu Magimaidass, HGN, parochial vicar of the parish, and three former pastors: Father Antonio Amato, Father Frank Murray, and Msgr. Paul Stefanko. Msgr. Stefanko served at the parish from 2015 to 2017, when the renovation plans were first being drawn up.
“My first impression when I went in was, ‘Wow, what a transformation.’ You would have never known you were in the same space. It’s just a whole different feel,” says Msgr. Stefanko. “I think it creates a whole different ambience and environment. It’s more prayerful.”
With wooden ceiling beams reminiscent of the former church, which was a converted barn, the new church has a simple, rustic feel.
“We didn’t want it to be like a cathedral because we are country and humble people who just love it plain and beautiful,” says Hebert. “We were used to a small country church.”
The wooden beams are meant to draw attention toward the tabernacle, cross, and altar. The latter was donated by Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville, along with the matching sanctuary furniture, candlestands, and holy water fonts. All were originally at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Fairfield.
“I love the altar. I love the way it is all set up,” says White.
“When you look at the altar, and you see the tabernacle, it just glows with the Lord’s presence there,” says Hebert. “When you walk through those doors, you feel the love of all those people who worked to make the church what it is. It’s just amazing. It just surrounds you.”
“I think my favorite part is just the beautiful woodwork and knowing that our parishioners are the ones who made that happen,” says Bowie. “You just see the people when you see that church.”
“This is beautiful. This is the nicest that we’ve had, of the churches we’ve had since I attended here,” says Dave Nattress of Auburn, a member of the church for more than 50 years.
“It’s so beautiful inside. The lighting and everything are going to be conducive to beautiful worship,” says Andrews.
Parishioners say it’s hard to express how much having a true worship space means to them.
“There are no words. We always had faith. That never changed, but now, we’re going to have a place to house it,” says Bowie.
“I missed our church a lot, but now, I have healed,” says Roberts.
Although the community has been an active one, parishioners hope the new church will attract new members and bring back some folks who drifted away when the former church was demolished.
“It is a place that will help us to be more reflective on the reality of Christ in our lives and to lift our hearts and minds up to God,” says Father Clifford.
“We’re just excited to reach out and maybe reach members who haven’t been here in a long time or didn’t even know we were here,” says Bowie. “It is just so exciting.”
Additional church improvements
Thanks to the successful capital campaign, the other churches of the parish also received improvements. Office space was added to St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway, along with new bathrooms, new lighting, new flooring in the parish hall, heat pumps, and a handicap lift. St. Mary Church in Oxford received new flooring and heat pumps, and the ceiling and walls were repainted. In addition, the pews were replaced with ones that were originally at St. James Church in Thomaston. (See story on page 16.)