Photo courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland
GORHAM — Much like they did 50 years ago, parishioners filled the pews of St. Anne Church in Gorham to celebrate the place that is their spiritual home.

“I just love St. Anne’s Church. The people in it are so wonderful,” said Christine Kimball, who has been a parishioner since before the church was built.

“We have a very warm church. It’s inviting,” said Carolyn Peterson, another longtime parishioner.

St. Anne Church was dedicated 50 years ago, and on Sunday, Oct. 2, parishioners gathered with Bishop Robert Deeley and the priests of the parish for a Mass commemorating the church’s golden anniversary.

“It is a joy to be with you for this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication of this place of worship, this St. Anne Church,” the bishop said. “For these 50 years, the life of this community has continued in this church. The celebration of Mass has taken place here, and those who come constantly draw spiritual strength from it. That truly is something to celebrate.”

The bishop noted in his homily that from the church’s first days, parishioners have been actively involved.

“With the dedication of a group of faithful Catholics who wanted an appropriate place to gather for Mass, the history of the parish tells us that, in 1967, ‘A hardworking Parish Council, Building Committee, and Furnishings Committee held countless meetings.’ What strikes me about this is the fact that such committees were so quickly established so soon after the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The laity were, indeed, involved in the planning and construction of this space that we celebrate today, on its 50th anniversary. And it appears to me that the laity are still a vital and important part of every part of the life of this community,” the bishop said.

St. Anne Church was dedicated on April 9, 1972, by Bishop Peter Gerety. The church’s roots, however, go back decades before that. The first Mass in Gorham was celebrated in the Grange Hall in 1944. Masses then moved to the town hall and eventually a local theater, which was owned by a parishioner of St. Mary Parish in Westbrook, of which the Gorham parishioners were a part.

“When we were children, we went to church at the local movie theater in town. It was called the Playhouse Theater, and it would be transformed on Sundays into a church,” said Peterson. “It was pretty interesting, when I think back on it.”

The community kept growing, and it soon became clear that the theater, which seated about 300 people, was too small.

“Eventually, they had so many parishioners, they decided they had to build a church, but they didn’t have the money, so they got the land and built their foundation,” explained Dulcie Flaherty, chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee.

Land on Main Street, busy Route 25, was purchased in 1958. Work proceeded slowly, and it wasn’t until 1963 that the basement of the building was completed. It would become the new worship site, while fundraising continued to finish the building.

“It took time. It took a few years to get that done and accomplished, so we were in the church basement for a number of years,” recalled Peterson.

In 1967, five years before the church was built, a new parish named for St. Anne was established.

“That is a beautiful title to have. Tradition tells us that St. Anne was the grandmother of Jesus, Mary’s mother. St. Anne, then, connects us with the very heart of our faith. She shows us the human origin of Jesus, Son of God, son of man. In his incarnation, the joining of his divinity with humanity, Jesus revealed to us the depth of the Father’s love for us. Our worship in this place, dedicated to the memory of his grandmother, reminds us of that gift that is ours in our faith. And it reminds us that, whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present with us. It is that regular celebration of the Eucharist that is the most important thing the community can do. Jesus’ presence to us in the Eucharist is our food for the journey of life,” Bishop Deeley said in his homily.

Even though the parish had mission churches in Sebago and Windham, the basement continued to serve as the worship space for parishioners in Gorham. Eventually, however, through fundraisers and hard work, enough money was raised to build the rest of the church.

At the time of its dedication, it was described as “simple and economical in a contemporary style” with natural cedar shingles that give it a rustic appearance.

“This was built with the idea that the pews were all kind of being in a semi-circle around the altar, so that nobody was too far away from the altar, and it had shingles on the inside of the building as well as the outside. They thought that would look nice, so that was kind of different,” said Kimball.

With the continuing commitment of parishioners, a new rectory and classrooms were added in the mid-1980s. In 2010, a Mary Garden was created by parishioner Michael Morrison for his Eagle Scout project, and in the last couple of years, Flaherty, with the support of fellow parishioner Martha Muldoon, began transforming the landscaping in front of the church.

“The landscaping out front wasn’t very inviting, and we had a very generous parishioner who donated significant funds several years in a row which allowed me to plan the landscaping out front, purchase the trees and the shrubs, and add perennials. It’s come so far. It’s wonderful,” said Flaherty.

And the front of the church now has a beautiful addition. Parishioners said they long wanted something visible from the street to clearly identify the building as a Catholic Church, and as a 50th anniversary gift, they raised money for a statue of St. Anne, which came from Italy. The statue, showing St. Anne teaching Mary, was blessed by the bishop following the anniversary Mass.

“O God, source of all grace and holiness, look kindly upon this image of St. Anne, ancestor and co-heir of Christ. She stands in your presence to plead for us. Grant that we may benefit from her intercession. Send your blessing upon this statue,” the bishop prayed.

Parishioners said their church, now part of the larger St. Anthony of Padua Parish following a merger with parishes in Westbrook and Windham last year, remains a vibrant place of worship and a supportive community.

“People really rally to help each other out. For example, when people are ill, they will have them on the prayer line. They have what they call the Sunshine Ladies who put together a basket of cards and just special things to cheer you up when you are getting home from the hospital. Then, we have the prayer shawl group,” said Flaherty.

“I think it’s important for parishioners to be active in the parish, so the parish grows. There is no way other way you can do it,” said Jim Volkommer, who, at age 90, remembers well the church’s early days.

Although 50 years have passed, Bishop Deeley said the mission of St. Anne Church remains the same as it was in April 1972, a place where Jesus gathers his people together to celebrate the Eucharist and draw strength from it.

“Having heard the Scripture, the word of God, and been nourished by the body and blood of Christ, we are renewed and sent forth to do the work of the Lord Jesus. As such, the purpose of this holy space remains the same as it ever was. Here, we are formed for the world. Here, we are changed by the presence of Jesus,” the bishop said. “As we mark this special anniversary in the life of this community and give thanks for this church, this place of worship, let us resolve to allow the grace of God within us to guide us in living our faith.”