AUBURN — A final Mass has been scheduled for a landmark Catholic church in central Maine that is slated to be sold or demolished.

The 98-year-old St. Louis Church in Auburn needs an estimated $1 million or more in repairs, far more than the parish can afford. Bishop Richard Malone has given approval for the church to be torn down if it can’t be sold in a timely fashion, but a final decision has yet to be made whether to sell or raze the building.

When the final services are held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, it will mark the end of an era for many families. The two-spired church was a focal point of the community, serving the mostly French-Canadian population in the New Auburn neighborhood.

At its peak, the church and its school served 1,000 to 1,200 families, said longtime parishioner Gerard Dennison, who served as an altar boy seven days a week and graduated from the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school in 1962.

“I remember ringing the bells dangling from a rope on the third floor in the belfry 15 minutes before Mass to warn everyone in the neighborhood,” he told the Sun Journal. “We had three Masses on Sundays and the church was full. The kids’ Mass was at 8 a.m. Midnight Mass was live on the radio, and we had to sell tickets as there was so much demand.”

An analysis last fall found severe structural problems in the church. There haven’t been any services since April, when the church closed after a crack appeared near the front doors.

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he hopes the church can be saved for other uses, much the way St. Mary’s in Lewiston was when it was restored and turned into the Franco-American Heritage Center after closing in 2000.

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