VASSALBORO — Rachel Kilbride still isn’t quite sure what compelled her to buy and restore an old Catholic church, but the decision was far too deliberate to be made on a whim.

In fact, Kilbride and her husband, James, have uprooted themselves from their home in southern Maine and invested almost everything they have into restoring the former St. Bridget Catholic Church on Main Street in North Vassalboro.

The building needs a lot of work — a new roof, mold remediation and a fresh coat of paint. The building hasn’t been heated since it closed four years ago, and running water has been off for the same amount of time.

Rachel admits the scale is ambitious, but at this point, she and James are fully invested. Her hope is to restore the church and reopen it as an event space and community center.

“I would say this is the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken,” she said, looking over the chilly, cavernous interior of the vacant church last week.

Built in 1926 after a fire destroyed an older church, St. Bridget’s tended to generations of Catholics in the Vassalboro area. But in 2011, as part of parish consolidation, it was shuttered along with other area churches.

Since then, it has sat empty, as the paint started to peel and lawn became overgrown.

Kilbride said she went to St. Bridget’s a few times as a child with her parents, who own a house on Webber Pond, but she doesn’t have any special connection to the church.

After she retired last June from a career in teaching, she wasn’t planning to take on a project like this.

“Last year at this time, this was not on my radar,” she said.

But one July afternoon, she was driving into town from her parents’ camp when she felt an unexplainable pull toward the building.

“This thought came to me when I looked at the church,” she said: “‘Buy me.'”

Kilbride said she tried hard to suppress the urge to take over the old building. After all, it wasn’t even for sale the first time she saw it.

But the urge to buy the place wouldn’t go away.

“It kept coming back,” she said. “‘You need to find out what they are going to do with Saint Bridget’s.'”

She finally asked the Diocese what was happening to the church, and last September she got a response. Kilbride said she almost wanted the asking price for the church, parish house and more than acre of property to be beyond her means so she could let the idea go, but it came in just about what she and James could afford if they put in virtually everything they had.

The couple closed on the property in late January and started fixing up the parish house, pulling up old carpeting to restore hardwood floors and putting in new electrical wiring and plumbing.

Now, they are starting to work on the church itself. They put their house in York up for sale to help finance the renovation, Rachel said. In a year’s time, they hope to hold a garden party on the property, just like the one that was held when it first opened 90 years before.

Kilbride plans to open the church for community events and host a monthly sewing group for local charities.

One of the most inspiring things about her decision has been the reaction from residents and neighbors, Kilbride said. Dozens of people, including life-long parishioners, have driven up to introduce themselves and ask what the couple intend to do with the building, she said. After other area churches were demolished, people are worried that the building might share the same fate or be turned into apartments.

But when she tells them that she plans to restore the church, “there is this look of relief,” Kilbride said. “They say, ‘We’re so glad you’re not going to tear it down.'” The couple got so many questions that their grandchildren finally put up a sign stating “restoring” over the church sign out front.

Those conversations have showed her how much people care about the building and how important it is to bring it back as a part of community life, Kilbride said.

“I think of this building as a jewel in the rough that needs some work to bring it back to what it was,” Kilbride said.

“It may have served its purpose as a church, but it can still serve the community,” she added.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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