AUGUSTA — Leaders of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church voted Tuesday to close its residential home for women by the end of the year.

Church officials said a “fragile financial condition” motivated the decision to close the home on Winthrop Street by Dec. 31. The home was chartered by a legislative act in 1870 to aid poor women in and around the city, but now largely provides residential living for senior women who can live independently.

“We are proud to have served generations of women,” church officials said in a release announcing the closing. “The decision to close is a matter of great sadness to us and, we know, to all associated with the home.”

The home is governed by the Corporation of St. Mark’s Home, which includes the rector, wardens and vestry of St. Mark’s Church. The officials had previously agreed to close the home but had not set a date until Tuesday’s vote.

Officials said staff will help the five residents who live in the home relocate. The home could remain open beyond Dec. 31 if any residents have not yet found appropriate housing.

Heidi Shott, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, which announced the decision, said the home is staffed by two full-time employees and a number of part-time and per-diem employees.

“A generous severance package has been offered to our employees, a number of whom have served for more than 10 years,” officials said in the release.

Church officials said they would consult Maine law, the donors’ intentions and ministry needs before deciding what to do with the building and property.

Shott said earlier this week that the small number of residents has put financial pressure on the home, forcing the closing.

Church official Joseph Riddick told a legislative committee last year that there were nine residents in the home, which has a capacity of 17. Riddick said eight of those residents received financial assistance through endowments and trusts. Riddick successfully lobbied lawmakers to allow the home to drop “for women” from its name in an effort to include men. The plan never materialized.

A man who identified himself as the manager at the home declined to comment on the closing Wednesday, but others who had a close connection with the home reflected on happier days.

“It’s a sad day around here,” said Kay O’Brien of Augusta, who volunteered at the home for 10 years until leaving last year, serving one term as president of the board of directors and two as president of the advisory board during that time.

“The whole atmosphere was wonderful,” O’Brien said. “It was a joy to go there and volunteer.”

Carol Smith of Litchfield, who retired last year as the home’s administrator, said she is waiting for the dust to settle before contacting residents and staff.

“I was there 17 years and absolutely loved every moment of it,” Smith said. “I just feel so sad our times have changed. It’s heartbreaking.”

Smith said there were eight residents when she began working at the home and eight when she left, but the house was twice filled to capacity in between.

“We maintained the home as if it was our own home and kept the home as close to a family relationship as we could,” Smith said. “It wasn’t an institution. It was a home.”

O’Brien recalled the entertainment, weekly chapel services and Christmas parties.

“The women were there by their own choice,” O’Brien said. “We’d give them a tour and let them make a decision. We always had wonderful ladies that decided to make it their home. It was a special place.”

O’Brien credits Smith for fostering the familial atmosphere. The house was always clean and well maintained and the grounds were always neat and trim. There were 10 volunteers on the advisory board, O’Brien said. All left when Smith retired.

“She was the one that kept that place a graceful place for women,” O’Brien said. “It was an elegant, calming, safe haven for them.”

Smith said there were 21 employees during her tenure, most of whom worked part time. The home continues to be staffed 24 hours per day.

“We had a lot of retirees and professionals looking for a supplemental income,” Smith said.

Smith anticipates the transition to a new facility will be difficult for the residents.

“Many of them have been there eight or nine years,” she said. “There are friendships and relationships that grew from that. It’s going to be traumatic.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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