SACO — “I thank the Lord for giving me the grace of never doubting my vocation as a parish priest.”

On Aug. 1, Monsignor René T. Mathieu retired from active ministry after serving for 43 years as a priest in the Diocese of Portland, including the last 16 in the Saco/Biddeford area. In 2010, Monsignor Mathieu, who at the time was already pastor of the churches in Biddeford and Saco, was also appointed pastor of the churches in Old Orchard Beach and Lyman to form Good Shepherd Parish.

But how do you say goodbye to a man who has given so much of himself to Good Shepherd Parish (Most Holy Trinity Church, Saco; St. Joseph Church, Biddeford; St. Margaret Church, Old Orchard Beach; St. Philip Church, Lyman; and St. Brendan Church, Biddeford Pool), especially during a pandemic? One way is to make sure his contributions are never forgotten.

“The parish purchased five icons of the Good Shepherd,” said Elizabeth Williams, pastoral life coordinator at the parish. “A large one for St. Joseph Church and four good-sized ones for our other churches. They symbolize our coming together as a unified parish ten years ago. Plaques are being engraved that read ‘In honor of Msgr. René T. Mathieu, the first pastor of Good Shepherd Parish.’”

On July 24, a socially distanced staff farewell gathering was held in the hall of St. Joseph Church where the parish staff surprised him with the farewell tribute.

“He had no idea of the gift from the parish,” said Williams. “It was a total surprise and he was very moved as we revealed the icon. He said he couldn’t have asked for better gifts in his honor and for the parish as well.”

His service was deserving of the commemoration, as the monsignor has guided the parish through many ups and downs since his arrival and has it on solid footing heading into a bright future.

“I have received great satisfaction in witnessing a growing devotion to frequent confessions among adults and youth, men’s and women’s reflection groups added to the already active Knights of Columbus and Daughters of Isabella, and discernment groups for young men and women,” he told parishioners during his last weekend as pastor. “St. James School has dealt remarkably with the pandemic and is fearlessly preparing for the fall term. Parishioners serve as civic and community leaders, some as elected officials while others organize important endeavors such as food pantries and Esther Residence. Parish commissions and other volunteers plan our parish liturgies, explore ways to serve the needy in our community, support prolife activity and reflect on the environment. We have had a balanced budget and continue to make significant capital improvements with the support of donors to the Shepherd of Hope Capital Campaign.”

A native of Sanford, Monsignor Mathieu was ordained to the priesthood on July 23, 1977, at St. Ignatius Church in Sanford. During his active ministry, he served in parishes in Auburn, Augusta, Lewiston and Caribou before arriving in the Biddeford/Saco area. In addition to his parish duties, the monsignor also served as vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Portland for six years and as a member of the diocese’s Presbyteral Council.

To the delight of the parish, Monsignor Mathieu is establishing a retirement home in Biddeford, where parishioners will have the chance to offer him thanks at a public celebration to be held after the restrictions on large gatherings are one day lifted.

“A most heartfelt thank you to our deacons, parish leaders, and to all members of the parish, young and old, for their prayerful support these many years,” he said.