Marking a milestone for a church built on love

“This is the dedication of the church with the bishop here.”

Christine Cummings looks over a collection of photos capturing the first days of St. Leo the Great Church in Howland.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” she says. “This one is 1949, and this was our first confirmation class with our bishop.”

The photos are part of a display put together for the church’s 75th anniversary, which was celebrated on Saturday, October 28, with a eucharistic procession through the streets of the Penobscot County town, a parish-wide Mass, and a reception, featuring two birthday cakes.

“The jubilee celebration is a wonderful opportunity to realize our call to rededicate ourselves to be missionary disciples of Christ and to be a sign and instrument of our union with God and one another in our divided world today,” says Father Anthony Kanagaraj Chinnaiyan, HGN, pastor of Our Lady of the Eucharist Parish, which includes St. Leo the Great Church.

St. Leo the Great was dedicated by Bishop Daniel Feeney, then-auxiliary bishop of Portland, on September 18, 1948. The pastor at the time, Father Charles Rivard, who had a background in construction, worked with Daniel Long, a Howland resident, to design the church. It was then built by parishioners themselves — the men of the parish, some of them log drivers by trade, going into the woods to cut down the trees that would be used for lumber.

“They built the church. They built the pews. They built all the candleholders, which are all wooden,” says Cummings. “It’s amazing. They did all this work, and it’s still here.”

An article from the Bangor Daily News from September 1948 stated, “They brought out 88,000 feet of lumber from the woods to be the final decoration which makes the church one of beauty and charm.”

“St. Leo’s Church was a symbol of the love and devotion which went into its building,” says Father Chinnaiyan. “Throughout the building are these intimate, lovely touches, which were enjoyed not only by the parishioners of that time but by posterity.” 

During the jubilee Mass, Father Chinnaiyan expressed his gratitude to the “faithful and visionary dreams of those who first thought to place a church on this property and had enough energy to make it happen.” He said the church community has long had a serving spirit, something that is evidenced by the many active groups in the parish, including the Daughters of Isabella, the Ladies of St. Anne, and a Knights of Columbus council with 96 members, including 12 who joined last year.

 “We do anything from painting to changing lightbulbs to rebuilding the concrete stairs to trimming the trees to keeping the sanctuaries up and running,” says Randy Nadeau, Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council 5524. “It’s all about community.”

‘It’s quite a close-knit community,” says Susan Bailey, former regent of the local circle of the Daughters of Isabella. “We’re friends to start off, and that goes into working together.”

“I enjoy working with the people, and I made a lot of friends in the Knights,” says Ellis, her husband.

In 2019, St. Leo the Great merged with St. Mary of Lourdes Parish in Lincoln to form Our Lady of the Eucharist Parish. While the two communities already cooperated, parishioners say the merger strengthened their ties. The choir during the jubilee Mass, for instance, was made up of parishioners from both communities.

“You see half of the people here are from Lincoln. We’ve all met each other now. We all have our own little things that we do, and it’s just wonderful. It’s just very warm and very nice,” says Cummings.

Although Howland isn’t the thriving town it once was, parishioners here still believe there are bright days ahead for their church community. They credit in part the leadership of Father Chinnaiyan. 

“Father Tony is wonderful. He really, really is. He is so appreciative,” says Cummings.

“Father Tony joined the Knights of Columbus here. He took his degrees here, and he is our chaplain,” says Nadeau. “Most of these guys will say, ‘When he gets done with his homily, I know what he is talking about.’ When you get a priest like that, you can move mountains.” 




Father Anthony Kanagaraj Chinnaiyan, HGN incenses the altar and Blessed Sacrament.
Opening procession
Father Anthony Kanagaraj Chinnaiyan, HGN,
View of St. Leo the Great Church from the balcony.