The final Masses at St. Andrew Church in Augusta and St. Leo Church in Litchfield were celebrated by Bishop Richard Malone during the weekend of October 23 and 24. Both churches were an integral part of St. Michael Parish which will continue to serve the faith community in the churches of St. Augustine and St. Mary of the Assumption in Augusta, St. Denis in Whitefield, St. Francis Xavier in Winthrop, and St. Joseph in Gardiner.
Father Frank Morin, pastor of St. Michael Parish, said the decision to close the churches was a difficult one but was forced by a continuing budget deficit. He says there are 19 buildings in the parish including the five other churches and St. Michael School.
“We’re just looking at the wide picture that the whole diocese is facing and how do we prepare for the future and be good stewards of what we have,” he said.
Father Morin said that St. Leo and St. Andrew were chosen because they are among the parish’s newer churches whose history doesn’t run as deep among parishioners.
St. Andrew, which is located on the East side of the Kennebec River was established in 1968 and was dedicated two years later.
St. Leo was built in 1966 as a chapel to serve the summer population that rented cottages along the lakes. It grew to be so popular, however, that an addition was later added and it was used year-round. In recent years, however, the population has declined
St. Leo and St. Andrew, moreover, are among the smaller churches. Being smaller and newer makes them easier to sell, he added. St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Augustine, which are much larger, will better accommodate larger crowds during Holy Week or at Christmas.
The closures had been discussed for months and parishioners knew they were coming, but they said that it is still tough to accept that they will no longer be attending Mass in their beloved churches and seeing familiar faces in every pew.
“You know the rationale behind it. You know the reasoning, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” said Pat Soboleski, who has long been active at St. Leo. “There have been a lot of parishioners that have put their hearts into this place. I mean we really, and I’ll include myself, we really love this little church and its community.”
“It’s been a wonderful community and we just enjoy it,” said Doris Simonson, who attended St. Leo for 30 years. “I’ve really been blessed to be here.”
“It was sad, definitely,” said Barbara Giroux, following the final Mass at St. Andrew. “There are some people who I’ve seen here for a long time that I’m hoping that I do see in other churches in the Church community.”
Bishop Malone’s Homily
During his homily, Bishop Malone commiserated with the parishioners: “This day, for all of you, is a difficult one. There is a sense of loss, the sense of letting go of what has become familiar and dear to you.” While worship sites are very significant to our faith lives, they are not what is most important, he said . “It’s the people, the community that counts,” he said. “We, together – lay faithful, priests, deacons and bishop – we, together are the Church.”
The Future Parish
Parishioners at both St. Andrew and St. Leo say what they will miss the most is the friendliness and close-knit communities at the churches. Now they will look to find similar experiences in the other church communities of St. Michael Parish.
Some parishioners who currently attend St. Leo may also opt to attend St. Ambrose in Richmond, part of All Saints Parish, or Our Lady of the Rosary in Sabbatus, depending on where in Litchfield they live.
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