FRENCHVILLE — For 50 years, the Christian Life Center in Frenchville has been bringing people closer to God and changing lives.
“It’s a place for fellowship and building your relationship with God in an intimate way,” says Barbara Pelletier, parish catechetical leader at St. John Vianney Parish in Fort Kent.
On Friday, Sept. 8 all are welcome to gather in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the center. Bishop Robert Deeley will celebrate a Golden Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Luce Church, located on 441 U.S. Route 1 in Frenchville, at 10:30 a.m. Many priests serving in Aroostook County will concelebrate the Mass.
For five decades, the Christian Life Center (CLC) has offered a wide range of programs, retreats, and events for people of all ages, as well as eucharistic adoration and Mass. The center draws people from throughout Aroostook County and beyond.
“There are many, many Catholic families that found healing, were empowered, and received graces from attending events here,” says Gale Rioux of St. John Vianney Parish.
The CLC was established in 1973. Originally located in Caribou, it initially served teens, but such was its success that the demand grew for adult programming as well. Msgr. Paul Stefanko, who served as director from 1979 to 1983, says that because the Caribou location was ill-equipped to serve adults, a new site was needed. He found it in Frenchville, at the former convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
“It had great possibilities to expand programming, especially for adults who were calling for things,” he said. “I looked at it, and I thought, ‘This would be perfect.’”
Through the years, the center’s offerings and the lives touched as a result continued to grow.
“It is a blessing. It changes your life. The only way you can change your life is through that connection with Christ, that prayer life, listening to Him. If you don’t take time to nourish your faith, you will never grow spiritually. You need Christ,” said Linda Raymond of New Canada.
When the center was forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the faithful feared its doors would remain shut for good. A leaking roof and the need for repairs and renovations did nothing to alleviate those concerns. However, last year, Bishop Deeley appointed Father Antony Alexander Maria Doss, HGN, to be the center’s new director and to serve as a parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Parish.
In recent months alone, the center hosted a marriage enrichment program, a men’s retreat and women’s retreat, a Charismatic Retreat Weekend, a marriage preparation weekend, and a retreat for college students. During Lent, Father Alex offered Bible study every Wednesday and eucharistic adoration and reflections on The Imitation of Christ on Fridays. Father Alex also started to hold bereavement gatherings on the last Wednesday of each month. It’s something that Rioux says was needed but wasn’t offered elsewhere in the St. John River Valley.
“There are bereavement gatherings that bring families together who have lost loved ones. His goal was just to provide guidance for them and support,” said Rioux. “It’s really healing for a lot of them.”
The center’s offerings are consistently well attended. A Valentine’s Day dinner drew twice as many couples as anticipated. When Father Alex celebrated Christmas midnight Mass at the center, the chapel filled up.
“I set the chapel up for 40, and all of a sudden, I look in the hallway, and there are a bunch of people standing there. So, I grabbed 10 more chairs. Then, I came back out of the chapel, and there were 10 or 15 people more,” said Carlos Sousa, who has served at the center for years, doing cooking and maintenance work.
“If you build it, they will come, and they do,” said Rioux. “Put the programs forth, invite people to come, and they do. And the word spreads and more come.”
Father Alex has numerous ideas for the future of the CLC, which receives crucial funding from the Catholic Appeal, along with support from Aroostook County parishes. He would like, for instance, to make the center available for private, silent retreats. There are plans to turn some rooms into mini suites to accommodate that. Other improvements include a newly renovated dining room and expanding bathrooms to make them accessible for people with disabilities.
“We want the center to be a place of spiritual nourishment like it used to be,” he said.
For more information about the Christian Life Center, visit www.clc4me.org.