AUGUSTA — When work began on the foundation of St. Augustine Church in June 1915, architects stopped construction because they feared the heavy building would sink into Sand Hill.

Church lore has it that the Rev. Zenon Decarie kept an all-night prayer vigil, and the next day, builders found the ledge they needed to continue construction of the massive granite church designed to hold more than 1,300 people.

And now, 100 years after the church was completed, St. Michael Parish will celebrate the anniversary of the church’s opening with a special Mass and reception Nov. 19.

The Mass begins at 4 p.m. at the church, the first stone church built by Franco-Americans in Maine, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The Rev. Frank Morin said it will be a celebration of not only the building itself, but also of the community it created.

“It’s recognizing our ancestors establishing and commitment to maintaining (the church),” Morin said. “It’s honoring the French Catholic expression of faith and remembering our roots in an appreciative way, because we’re the way we are today because of (them).”

The parish itself started as La Paroisse de Saint Augustin in 1887 in response to an influx of workers and their families, the majority of whom came from Quebec and New Brunswick, in search of a better life in a new place, Morin said.

“This community kind of came to be because of the language barrier and the city (of Augusta) not being very welcoming to French-Canadians at the time,” said David Madore, co-chairman of the celebration committee and a former state legislator. “It has stood the test of time for 100 years, and it’s pretty remarkable.”

Several generations have experienced baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals inside the walls of the historic church, and Morin and Madore hope that continues for generations to come.

“It should always feel like you’re coming home, no matter how long you’ve been gone,” Madore said. “Celebrating the 100th is like that because we want everybody to come back, even if you haven’t been in a while, and say thanks.”

The building, which was made with Hallowell granite, has undergone several renovations since 1916, with the most recent happening in the early 1990s. Morin and Madore said the church is in good shape structurally and might just need some cosmetic updating in the near future. The main steeple measures more than 100 feet, can be seen from many parts of the city and is a recognizable part of the Augusta skyline.

Morin said there are 4,500 to 4,600 households belong to St. Michael Parish, but there is always concern about how to continue to attract new people to the parish and its six churches.

“We have to keep making our presence known in the city and keep offering the programs that might bring young families to us,” Morin said.

Just a few days removed from arguably the most divisive presidential campaign in recent history, Morin and Madore said it’s nice to know that there are still so many people with faith and beliefs that transcend all of that.

“It’s like a family tradition that gets passed down, and that’s what our faith is,” Madore said. “It still exists, and us coming together is a nod to the past while looking to the future and asking what comes next.”

Both men see no reason why the church won’t still be standing in 2116, 100 years from now.

“It’s all about community, and I think as long as there are places like this where people can come together, there will always be a need,” Madore said.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley, the 12th bishop of Portland, will be preaching during the Mass. He said the church was built to accommodate a growing parish family that still exists today, which is something to celebrate and commemorate.

“The anniversary speaks to the dedication of this parish community, a fitting tribute to the faith-filled French-Canadians who came to Augusta so many years ago,” Deeley said in an email. “It reminds us of the bond we have as a church and of the need we have to work together for the good of the people of God.”

The Mass will be in English and French to honor the legacy of those who came to Augusta in the late 19th century in search of a better life. The parish expects around 10 people over the age of 90 to attend the celebration.

The Mass originally was going to be held on Christmas Eve, 100 years to the day of the first Mass held at the church; but parish officials decided it might be too difficult for some parishioners to attend because of the possibility of bad weather.

“We were leaning toward something around that time, but we realized it just wouldn’t work for so many people,” Madore said. “And it’s humbling to be a part of this and to think of our ancestors and all the sacrifices they made to make this happen.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ