WATERVILLE — St. Francis de Sales Church’s 137-year history of hosting services in the city will end Sunday with a closing Mass offered by Bishop Richard J. Malone.

St. Francis is slated for demolition later this year to make way for construction of an elderly housing complex to include 40 units.

In addition to the 21,388-square-foot church, the adjacent rectory and church hall at the corner of Winter and Elm streets will be razed.

The church for the last year has been used only for funerals and weddings.

Memories come flooding back for Joan Poulin, 77, of Winslow, as St. Francis’ final Mass approaches.

Poulin was married at the church in 1956 when she was 21. Her two sisters also were married there.

Poulin and her late husband, Clarence Poulin, met at the church.

“Our family used to live on Kennebec Street and we walked to St. Francis and that’s where my husband spotted me from the balcony,” she said. “We used to sit on the right hand side. He used to sit in the balcony. We used to go roller skating, a bunch of us girls. That’s how I got to know him.”

They were married June 30, 1956, in front of about 200 relatives and friends. It was a happy time, she said.

Knowing that the church will be razed is sad, Poulin said, but she understands the reasons for it. And having elderly housing in its place is a good thing, according to Poulin.

Gilman Pelletier, 74, of Waterville, also has fond memories of St. Francis, where he has helped with funerals over the years. Pelletier is a lector for Corpus Christi Parish.

“The music was different there — it was nice,” he said. “I would sit there and listen and they had some singers. It was a change from Notre Dame and Sacred Heart, but they were all good.”

Like Poulin, Pelletier says he is sad about St. Francis being torn down.

“At the same time, I understand that times have changed and the economy is part of that,” he said. “It’s always sad to see a place that thousands of people helped to build go away. This is part of life. It’s always sad. At the same time, we have to understand there are a lot of things we can’t do anything about — but there are things we are able to do.”

The need to raze the church, one of several in the Corpus Christi Parish, is driven by several factors, according to Mike Hebert, parish building facilities manager.

“It’s a shortage of priests and it’s heating costs and it’s plowing and sanding,” Hebert said Thursday. “It’s just gotten to be too much. We really can’t justify the expense.”

St. Francis was built in 1871 and dedicated June 14, 1874, by Bishop David C. Bacon, first bishop of the young Diocese of Portland, according to the Corpus Christi Parish web site. The congregation outgrew the church, which had a capacity of 600 people, so side galleries were added in 1888, increasing the capacity to 1,000.

Another renovation between 1964 and 1969 dismantled the side galleries and replaced the original stained-glass windows with the current ones depicting the 12 apostles.

Hebert said it would be great if a lot of people attend Sunday’s service.

The 2 p.m. Mass at 52 Elm St. is open to the public and will be followed by a reception at Notre Dame Church Hall on Silver Street.

The elderly housing plan needs a final commitment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the city’s Planning Board. An application was filed with HUD in June for the plan and was accepted in November.

If the project gets final approval, Corpus Christi Parish will sell the property to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland’s Bureau of Housing, which will get the mortgage through HUD. That Bureau of Housing owns elderly housing throughout the state, including Seton Village in Waterville.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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