MECHANIC FALLS — “It’s just phenomenal!”
For Josephine “Josie” Hebert and fellow parishioners of Our Lady of Ransom Church in Mechanic Falls, Corpus Christi Sunday was a long-awaited and long-anticipated day.
“My heart is filled with joy,” said Hebert. “It’s a dream come true, and I want to shout it from the highest tops of the mountains.”
The dream that is now a reality is a new worship space. On June 11, Bishop Robert Deeley gathered with parishioners to bless the new Our Lady of Ransom Church (pictures at www.portlanddiocese.org/news/our-lady-ransom-blessing).
“It is a special joy to be with you for this ceremony of blessing your newly renovated worship space, your church. And what a beautiful job you have made of it. This has been a long time in the planning. It has been a real community effort,” said Bishop Deeley to those gathered.
The new church is located in what was once the parish hall. Parishioners have been celebrating Mass in the hall for the past eight years, since their former church building had to be shut down and later demolished due to mold and other issues.
Plans to transform the hall into a true worship space began not long after that, and in 2018, St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish launched a capital campaign to raise money not only for the work at Our Lady of Ransom but, also, for improvements to St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway and St. Mary Church in Oxford, the parish’s other two churches. Approximately $750,000 was raised.
Unfortunately, the renovation project in Mechanic Falls suffered several setbacks, most especially the COVID-19 pandemic, during which contractors were hard to find and costs soared.
While the parish hired Ouellet Construction to add a steeple to the front of the church, much of the interior work ended up being done by the parishioners themselves.
“This is a culmination of just a village of people coming together and making it happen. We were all obviously saddened when the old church had to be torn down, but we had faith that we would rebuild,” said Beth Bowie, a parishioner from Mechanic Falls. “We had a lot of hurdles, but never did anybody waver. We just kept moving forward.”
“The people have stepped up as a community,” said Father Ed Clifford, pastor. “People showed up and rolled up their sleeves, from the beginning, when we were tearing up the tiles, to the end, when we were cleaning up the furniture to put it into place.”
There were contributions from a long list of parishioners, among them, John ‘Rusty’ D’Amour, Susan Paquin, building contractor and parishioner Bob Rose, and Paul Heneghan, a retired contractor, who led the way through the first months of the project. Heneghan, who is actually a member of St. Joseph Parish in Bridgton, started working on the project in the fall of 2022 and continued into the spring of 2023, doing everything from putting in piping to sanding and staining ceiling beams.
“One feature is the ceiling above the center aisle with beams leading to the front, focusing attention on the most important features: the altar, the tabernacle, and the cross,” said Father Clifford.
Parishioners said the beams also serve as a reminder of their former church, which was a converted barn.
“I think my favorite part is just the beautiful woodwork and knowing that parishioners are the ones who made that happen,” said Bowie.
Nearly 175 people joined with the bishop for the first Mass at the new church, so many that chairs set up in the narthex were all filled, with a few people standing in the entranceway.
The Mass began in the parking lot, with the bishop praying, “May we open our hearts and minds to receive his word with faith; may our fellowship, born in the one font of baptism and sustained at the one table of the Lord, become the one temple of his Spirit as we gather around his altar in love.”
Pat O’Brien, chair of the Pastoral Council, and Hebert then offered brief remarks, after which the bishop was presented with the architect’s plans. The church was designed by Lassel Architects from South Berwick.
Plans in hand, the bishop invited Father Clifford to “please open the doors to this new church.” After he did, all processed inside, filling chairs because the church’s new pews hadn’t yet arrived.
During the Mass, the bishop walked through the church and narthex, sprinkling the walls and the congregation with holy water.
“My God, the Father of mercies, dwell in this house of prayer and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, cleanse us who are the temple where he prays,” the bishop prayed.
Later in the Mass, parishioners ceremonially covered the altar with a cloth and arranged the candlesticks on it, which were then lit for the first time in the new church.
The altar, matching sanctuary furniture, candle stands, and holy water fonts were all originally from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Fairfield and were donated to the community by Corpus Christi Parish.
Parishioners said it was exciting to be able to celebrate Mass in their new church for the first time.
“When you look at the altar, and you see the tabernacle, it just glows with the Lord’s presence there,” said Hebert.
“I love the altar. I love the way it is all set up,” said Lorraine White, from Minot.
“This is beautiful. This is the nicest that we’ve had, of the churches we’ve had since I attended here,” said Dave Nattress, from Auburn, a member of the church for more than 50 years.
“I am pleased, very pleased, excited. I think it’s beautiful, beautiful,” said Louise Roberts, from Poland.
As beautiful as the church is, during the Mass, the bishop reminded parishioners that what makes the space so special is what happens within it.
“On this beautiful day, cherish the gift which is the church, but cherish even more the gift which is celebrated here, the Eucharist, God’s gift of himself to us. Truly, never forget how blessed we are in the love that God shows us,” the bishop said.
Joining Bishop Deeley and Father Clifford for the celebration of the Mass were Father Arockia Natha Prabu Magimaidass, HGN, parochial vicar of the parish, and three former pastors: Father Antonio Amato, Father Frank Murray, and Monsignor Paul Stefanko, who served at the parish from 2015 to 2017 when renovation plans were first being drawn up.
“My first impression when I went in was ‘Wow, what a transformation.’ You would have never known you were in the same space,” Msgr. Stefanko said. “It’s just a whole different feel.”
Parishioners said they hope the different feel and look will attract more people to their church and said they are ready to welcome them.
“It is just so exciting,” said Bowie. “We always had faith. That never changed, but now, we’re going to have the place to house it.”