Three Lewiston-Auburn churches celebrate centennials

Members of three Lewiston-Auburn church communities held centennial celebrations this October, sharing memories of the past and looking to the future.

Sacred Heart Church in Auburn

In Auburn, parishioners gathered with Bishop Robert Deeley to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Sacred Heart Parish.

“As we gather this morning, we indeed do so in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving,” the bishop said. “We are grateful for the grace of gathering in this church community to celebrate God’s love for us in the Eucharist.”

Sacred Heart Parish was established by Bishop Louis Walsh in 1923, a time when Auburn and Lewiston were experiencing an influx of French-Canadian and Irish immigrants, who came to the area to work in the mills and factories. It was the second Auburn parish established following St. Louis in 1902.

The first Masses at Sacred Heart were celebrated in a converted stable, leading the bishop to remark, “It was like Christmas in Auburn.” The former stable was used for 15 years until a new Sacred Heart Church opened in 1938.

The parish originally had 215 families, but that number swelled to 600 by the end of World War II, and in response, the community opened a school in 1952, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon as teachers.

 Roland Bergeron, who attended the school in those early years, remembers one sister in particular.

“I went all the way through the ninth grade, and that was special because when we got to the ninth grade, we had Sister Lillian Poulin, who was known as Sister Henry Georgianna. We all wanted to be sure we got into her class,” he says. “She was so special. You could tell there was something about her. There was like an aura around her.”

Although Sister Lillian passed away in 2010, three Sisters of St. Joseph attended the centennial Mass, including Sister Angela Fortier, CSJ, who made her first vows at the church.

“The church was very special because when I entered the convent, we were quite a group of postulants and novices, and we used to come to church here every day in those days. This is where I took the habit. This is where I made my first vows, and I also taught at Sacred Heart. I taught first grade here for more than six years, so it’s special to my heart,” she says.

Although the school closed in 1972, the church continues to bring people together to celebrate the Eucharist.

“My friends, there is much that is good that we celebrate in this anniversary. Coming together now around this altar reminds us, however, that this is the most important thing the parish community can do. Jesus’s presence to us in the Eucharist is our food for the journey,” the bishop said.

Pam Vaillancourt, a lifelong parishioner, calls the church her foundation.

“If I can’t be at church at least once a week, something is missing, and it seems that my life goes in the wrong direction,” she says. “God is a priority, and He has to be. Everything else falls into place when He is your priority.”

 Vaillancourt, the church’s music director, describes the Sacred Heart community as amazing.

“It’s a happy community, and we embrace each other. We’re here for each other. As you can see, most people greet each other by name. I feel blessed to have been part of this all my life,” she says.

“It’s a very prayerful and close community,” says Carol DeRoy, who formed a women’s group at the church. “This is home. It really is.”

“We’re very ordinary, everyday people who all are welcoming to anyone who wants to come,” says Shelley Harris, a choir member.

Parishioners say under the leadership of the current pastor, Father Robert Vaillancourt, they have seen an increase in participation in the sacramental life of the Church.

“There are so many people coming to confession,” says Bergeron. “People who have been away for 35-45 years, they are coming back. It gives us a great feeling to be continuing with God’s holy work. That is what we’re here to do.”

It is something Bergeron has done nearly his entire life. In 1948, when the parish was celebrating its 25th anniversary, he was chosen, at age 4, to portray a young St. Jean Baptiste in the annual parade held in the saint’s honor. He then served as co-chair of both the 60th and 70th anniversary celebrations — the parish didn’t celebrate a golden jubilee — and he was chairman of the centennial celebration.

“I won’t be around for the 125th celebration,” he says with a smile.

Parishioners who attend Sacred Heart say they hope their church community will be thriving when that time comes in 2048.

“It’s been a blessing to have our church not close, a blessing,” says Harris. “I think we’re all living our lives as broken individuals, and we come here, and we feel healed. Then we leave, and we start our week again, and we come back every weekend to be refreshed.”

Holy Cross and Holy Family Churches

Parishioners who attend Holy Cross Church and Holy Family Church, both in Lewiston, say they, too, find a sense of purpose and belonging in their faith communities.

“It’s the center of my life,” says Linda Henault, who attends Holy Cross Church. “That is what family is all about, just coming together and doing things and having God as our center.”

“It’s just such a warm, caring Christian family that we love. We connect with people here. We just belong,” says Claire Therriault, a choir member at Holy Cross.

“I love Holy Family.  It’s like my second home. It’s my comfort,” says Anne Servidio, who serves as a sacristan.

As with Sacred Heart, Holy Cross and Holy Family were established to meet the needs of a growing immigrant community. At the time, there were four other parishes in Lewiston, serving approximately 10,000 people. Such was the French-Canadian influence that the inscription at Holy Cross was changed to Sainte-Croix and Holy Family was known as Paroisse Sainte-Famille.

Mass for Holy Cross parishioners was first celebrated at the former Androscoggin Sanatorium, but in December 1923, work began on building a church. It officially opened on September 14, 1924, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. A school, staffed by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary of St. Hyacinth, opened three years later.

With the number of families soaring, fundraisers began in the mid-1940s to build a larger church, which was dedicated on June 20, 1948.

“Many of us have fond memories of this church from the time it was conceived, through its planning and building stages, prayer services, eucharistic celebrations, Holy Cross School, fundraising,” says Larry Thibault, a parishioner who researched the church’s history.

The history of Holy Family Parish follows a similar path. The first Mass in the parish was celebrated on November 4, 1923, at Thorne’s Corner Grange Hall, with more than 850 people in attendance. That same year, land was purchased to build a combination church and school. The first Mass was celebrated there on Christmas 1924, although the church didn’t officially open until the Feast of Pentecost on June 8, 1925. The school was staffed by Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon.

As with Holy Cross, as Lewiston’s Franco-American population grew, it became evident a larger worship space was needed. In 1949, work began on a new church. The basement was blessed by Bishop Daniel Feeney, then-auxiliary bishop of Portland, in 1950 and served as the church for the next nine years. The upper church, with its striking exterior of Indiana limestone, was completed in May 1960.

“The whole history of how Holy Family grew is amazing, but it was all because of a lot of people who pulled together. I think from the beginning, we’ve been fortunate to have a good team, not only of clergy but a good team of parishioners to help,” says Servidio. “Everybody pitches in.”

In 2009, Holy Cross and Holy Family parishes joined the other Lewiston Catholic communities as Prince of Peace Parish. Today, the parish also includes the Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul in Lewiston, Holy Trinity Church in Lisbon Falls, and Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Sabattus.

“This community is so dynamic. Our parish community is going all out right now with bringing members back to the church. Our pastor, Father Dan [Greenleaf] is very instrumental in reaching out to the parishioners,” says Thibault. “We’re also working on reaching out across the street to neighborhoods downtown and whatnot. We’re not just focused on our parish. We’re focused on the community in the Lewiston-Auburn area.”

“I think Prince of Peace Parish has done a really good job of supporting the community and showing that we’re part of the community,” says Servidio. 

“Everybody is very faith-filled and friendly and always ready to help with whatever activities the church is doing,” says Henault. “My parents planted that seed, and it grew, and it’s just part of my life. It’s just part of what you do when you are part of a community like this.”

The Holy Cross and Holy Family communities worked together to plan their centennial celebrations, which were both held on October 22. Father Patrick Finn celebrated the Mass at Holy Family, while Father Elaiyaraja Thaniyel, HGN, celebrated the one at Holy Cross, expressing thanks to God.

“We thank God today for this century of grace,” he said. “We thank Him for all His blessings on this faith community for the past hundred years and for the love and sacrifices of all those who came before us and helped to build this great community.”  


Opening procession at Sacred Heart Church anniversary Mass.
Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon sit in the front pew.
Knights of Columbus at Sacred Heart Church in Auburn.
The choir at Sacred Heart Church in Auburn
Shelley Harris and Pam Vaillancourt
Retreat at Holy Family Church in Lewiston.
 Father Elaiyaraja Thaniyel, HGN celebrating the Eucharist.
Parishioners at Holy Cross Church in Lewiston.
Choir at Holy Cross Church in Lewiston.
Holy Cross Church in Lewiston from the back.
Anniversary banner at Holy Family Church in Lewiston.