WATERVILLE — A gold-painted cross that for nearly 140 years graced the steeple of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Elm Street until the church was demolished was dedicated Wednesday in a cemetery in the city’s South End.

Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland thanked Pearley and Alice Lachance for their kindness in rescuing the cross from an Albion field, where it had been tossed after the church was razed three years ago. The Lachances had the cross restored, and it was installed early in November at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery.

Deeley said before Wednesday’s dedication ceremony that the cross should never have been tossed in a field, and he praised the Lachances for bringing people together in love and healing.

“I think this is a wonderful event for the community,” Deeley said. “The cross is a symbol of what we are as Christians and Catholics. It’s a wonderful way to gather the community.”

More than 100 people, including Catholics and non-Catholics, priests, the Knights of Columbus and members of Bourque-Lanigan Post 5 of Waterville, turned out for the event.

Pearley Lachance, 81, welcomed the crowd, saying he initially decided to restore the cross as an act to please his wife, who had been devastated by the church’s demise. Alice Lachance had grown up in the church, was baptized and had her first communion 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 couple said.

The church was torn down after the Diocese was unsuccessful in finding a buyer for it. A housing complex for seniors was built in its place , and some artifacts from the church were incorporated into the complex, including the bell, stained glass windows and woodwork.

But many people, including the Lachances, felt hurt that the church was taken down, and the Lachances said they hoped that the restoration, the placement in the cemetery and dedication of the cross would help people to heal. Pearley Lachance hired John Gawler, of John Gawler Sheet Metal Co., of Belgrade, to restore the cross. Bill Mushero and his family of Oakland built a concrete base and installed the 11-foot-tall, 200-pound cross on it in the cemetery.

“The restoration of the cross started off as an act to please my wife, Alice, but the response has been overwhelming from Catholics and Christians of different dominations,” Pearley told the crowd. “Thank you for sharing your sentiments with us.”

He said the cross represents Christianity and is situated next to an American flag, which represents “our beloved country, so I call it, ‘For God and Country.'”

More than 400 World War II veterans are buried in the cemetery, including 32 who were killed in action, he said. “There are many more veterans from other conflicts,” he said.

Before having the restored cross placed in the cemetery, Pearley Lachance visited Deeley to ask for his permission to do so and Deeley readily agreed.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Deeley said the cross is a symbol of death, but it also is a symbol of victory over the things that keep us from the love of God. While Jesus died on the cross, he also rose from the dead three days later, the bishop said, calling the cross a symbol of mercy, life and love.

Wednesday’s gathering came about because of Pearley Lachance’s wish to serve and because of the love that he and his wife have for each other, according to Deeley.

“Let it be a reminder to us that the cross is only a symbol until you and I put it to life,” he said.

The bishop prayed, blessed the cross and read the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.

Turning to face the cross with its four-sided base flanked with four Christmas wreaths, Deeley offered the prayer of blessing.

“Let us pray that the Lord will bless this cross and all who come to venerate it and pray before it,” he said.

He then held up a brass censer containing incense. “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” he said.

All together, members of the crowd replied, “Come, let us adore.”

At ceremony’s end, Alice Lachance, sitting in the second row of chairs facing south, said she thought the dedication was great.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “I’m so happy I could cry. And I never expected this crowd.”

Former City Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas attended the ceremony with her son, Nate, and daughter, Ailie, 11, who got out of school at Mount Merici Academy in Waterville early Wednesday to be there. Ailie said she thought it was a good thing, bringing people together for the cross dedication.

Rancourt-Thomas said she was happy that so many people turned out from various churches.

“We’ve got people so excited about this whole thing,” she said. “It’s positive, to bring everybody together. This whole country is just so fractured. When the church was torn down, our Catholic Church was fractured. This is healing it. It’s just a really wonderful healing process. Thank God for Pearley and Alice.”

Mike Hebert, facilities manager for Corpus Christi Parish, of which St. Francis was a part, agreed.

“If it helps people move on and get past their grief of losing the church — even one person — it’s all worth it,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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