WATERVILLE — The gold-painted cross that for 140 years was perched atop the steeple of St. Francis de Sales Church on Elm Street now is in its final resting place at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery.

The cross, rescued from a cow pasture in Albion where it was discarded after the Catholic church was torn down three years ago, was restored over six months, re-painted recently and installed Wednesday afternoon in the cemetery on Grove Street in the city’s South End.

“It’s amazing,” Pearley Lachance, 81, of Winslow, said after the cross was lowered by a crane and placed on its base. “It’s something that started as an idea to please my wife, Alice, and now, anybody that comes in the cemetery will be able to enjoy it.”

The cross restoration effort was launched by Lachance a couple of years ago as a gift to his wife, who was devastated when the church was demolished. She had grown up in the church, was baptized and had her first communion and confirmation there, and she and her husband were married in the church. When the cross atop the steeple was taken down in May 2013, Alice was physically sick for three days, the Lachances said.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland had the 137-year-old church razed after an unsuccessful effort to find a buyer for it. A housing complex for seniors was built on the spot and some artifacts from the church were incorporated into the complex, including the church bell, stained glass windows, woodwork and other items.

The Lachances had heard the cross was discarded with a load of granite after the church demolition and placed in a cow pasture in Albion, so they went there and paid the farmer $300 for it. They had it hauled by contractor, Connie Damboise, to their home in Winslow, where Pearley contemplated what to do with it. He wanted to do something that could help those who remained bitter about the church’s demise to heal and find peace.

He hired John Gawler, of John Gawler Sheet Metal Co., of Belgrade, to restore the cross. Bill Mushero, of Oakland, built the concrete base and installed it at the cemetery; and Mushero’s son, Adam, and grandson Scott, helped install the 11-foot-tall, 200-pound cross Wednesday using a crane. Del Belliveau, a friend of Bill Mushero’s, oversaw the work.

“I just loved the project so much,” Gawler said of restoring the cross, which is made of wood, galvanized sheet metal and iron. “Every time I got to the point where I wanted to do a little extra, I took my time and did it. I enjoyed it tremendously, every step of the way. It is a creative process to choose the right structure and design and keep it authentic, so I really liked it.”

Pearley had asked for permission of Bishop Robert Deeley, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, to install the cross in the cemetery; and Deeley readily agreed.

Deeley will be on hand for the cross dedication the Lachances plan to host at 2 p.m. Nov. 30 at the cemetery. They welcome anyone who wants to attend.

“We want people to come, and I’m hoping that John Gawler’s family will come and sing gospel music,” Pearley said. “I’ve had so many notes and letters from non-Catholics. This is not particularly a Catholic thing, because the cross represents Christianity. I don’t see it as just a Catholic church cross; it’s the significance of what the cross means.”

The Gawler Family is a well-known musical group in Maine and beyond. Gawler said he hopes he and his family can perform at the dedication Nov. 30 — he just has to confirm it with everyone, as two of his children are away this week.

Pearley Lachance said Bill Mushero stepped up efforts to move the cross to the cemetery after the unexpected death Sunday of Dick Willette Sr., who ran the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen, as Mushero wanted to have the cross in place in time for Willette’s funeral Thursday morning. Willette, who will be buried in St. Francis Cemetery, formerly served on the board for the Waterville Area Humane Society; and Mushero’s wife also was on that board, according to Pearley. He said Bill Mushero was unable to be at the cross installation Wednesday.

Pearley spent several thousand dollars on the cross effort. His wife, smiling, watched it being raised by the crane Wednesday, as the sun shone off the cross. It had been painted at Maurice & Sons Auto Body in Fairfield and then moved on a flatbed truck to the cemetery.

“I can’t believe it,” Alice said. “It’s my gift from Pearley and it’s my gift to the parish — the St. Francis Parish — the old parishioners who slaved to build that church. You’ll never know how I felt when I saw it in that cow pasture. It cost us $300. It’s like 30 pieces of silver given to Judas. The guy sold the cross for $300. Doesn’t it feel prophetic? I was so upset. Pearley said, ‘He wants $300.’ I said, ‘I don’t care if it costs $3,000. We better get it out of this field.'”

About 20 people witnessed the cross installation Wednesday, about 100 feet south of the cemetery office, near the American flag and a granite veterans’ memorial. The cross was placed atop the 4-foot-tall base that has another 4 feet underground.

Ironically — and Pearley said he did not plan it this way — the cross also overlooks Pearley Lachance’s parents’ graves, as well as the graves, already marked with stones, that he and Alice will one day inhabit.

Mike Hebert, facilities manager for Corpus Christi Parish, of which St. Francis Church was a part, was on hand Wednesday, as was Damboise and the Lachances’ daughter, Rachel, and her husband, James Kilbride, of Vassalboro.

Alice Lachance beamed as she admired the cross, towering over the activity below.

“I’m very happy,” she said. “To me, it’s worth more than anything.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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