AUGUSTA — The Rev. Francis Morin, known to most simply as Father Frank, made time to reach outside St. Michael Catholic Parish’s six churches and one private school, to help those in need regardless of their religion.

He did this even as he has been spread thin shepherding a parish that extends from Augusta to Winthrop, Whitefield, Gardiner and Hallowell that was simultaneously expanding and consolidating.

Morin, who just retired as administrator of St. Michael Parish, says he just followed and shared the Gospel, and preached the traditional Catholic values of helping others and advocating for the poor.

“I like to foment the focus of the church on being aware of bringing about greater social justice,” said Morin, who turns 70 this month. “That’s the most important focus, for me. It’s a priority because if all you’re doing is celebrating what you believe, but not witnessing it, we’re not living the Gospel. Don’t just praise God with words and speeches, but also with truths and action. In other words, don’t just go to church.”

But many of those who know him say the compassionate, hard-working priest has gone well beyond the basics of his calling. Even when not all his parishioners were necessarily ready to follow his lead.

“Father Frank has been a tremendous friend of the immigrant community here in Augusta, he’s a compassionate and caring man who embodies the values of the Catholic faith,” said Chris Myers Asch, executive director of the Capital Area New Mainers Project, a group that helps refugees and immigrants get settled in the area. “He stands up for what he knows to be right, regardless of the possible fallout. There have been some, in his congregation, who have not supported his open embrace of immigrants. But he’s done what he knows to be right. He’s an extraordinary figure. He’s definitely drawn from a deep Catholic tradition of working for social justice. He sees it as the work of the Lord.”

Asch said Morin has opened up St. Augustine Catholic Church to the new Mainers group, which includes many members who are Muslim, to meet and hold celebrations and other events there. Morin has also spoken out in favor of a Islamic Society of Greater Augusta proposal to build a mosque in Augusta and, with other local religious leaders, visited the Iraqi-run Mainely Groceries shop in Augusta to show support for the immigrant community.

But parishioners say Morin has put plenty of hard work directly into the parish and its six churches, too, St. Augustine, St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Augusta, St. Joseph Church in Gardiner, Sacred Heart Church in Hallowell, St. Denis Church in Whitefield and St. Francis Xavier Church in Winthrop. Morin has overseen the churches since 2009. He was ordained in 1973.

Each of the churches in the parish once had its own priest. Now the six churches have three priests, who split their time between them.

Morin said the burden of overseeing such a large, widespread parish is part of why he decided to retire. He said as the number of priests has shrunken, part of a larger trend of fewer people entering the priesthood, his duties running the parish have increased.

“He’s in charge of a lot of stuff, he works very hard and he does his work well,” said Julie Brawn, who has been a member of St. Augustine, in the Sand Hill area of Augusta, for all 87 years of her life. “The parish is so spread out he was a busy man, that’s a lot of churches for him to service and make sure everybody is taken care of. But if you need anything, he’s right there to make sure everything is taken care of. He’s very concerned with his parishioners and very helpful. It’s not surprising he’s retiring — he’s exhausted. He’ll certainly be missed by all of us.”

John Bobrowiecki, of Farmingdale, a member of St. Michael’s pastoral council which is responsible for promoting community throughout the parish, said Morin has done a great job maintaining the connections local parishioners have to each of the parish’s churches, and also fostered their connections to the parish as a whole.

“It’s a pretty diverse and spread-out parish and he’s taken steps to bring it together as one community,” Bobrowiecki said. “That says a lot about him, he makes a huge effort to try and meet and get to know all the parishioners, by name. He’s got six churches with hundreds of families and he does it. He got to know me just by asking my name and remembering me every week. He’s done a good job making sure he’s visiting all the churches, he doesn’t just hang out at St. Augustine or St. Mary’s.”

Morin, however, said he and the parish’s other two priests, currently the Rev. Michael Seavey and the Rev. Samy Santhiyagu, simply can’t be available to parishioners as much as priests who were only ministering to one church could be in days gone by, or be as familiar with them. He said lay staff help fill the gaps.

While he is retiring as parish administrator, Morin plans to continue his roughly 45 years of ministry activity by filling in at various churches when needed and by conducting Masses on weekends in Spanish, for Spanish-speaking workers and others, across the state.

“The diocese is blessed that Father Morin will continue his priestly ministry through assisting Maine parishes in need and serving the Hispanic community, (a) service he has offered generously throughout the years,” Bishop Robert P. Deeley, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said in a statement. “Father Morin has always been dedicated to bringing the Gospel to the faithful of St. Michael Parish and the parishioners at all of his many assignments in Maine. I am so grateful for his daily acceptance of his vocation and his fidelity to the mission of the church. He provides a wonderful example for our young priests to follow in the many ways in which he manages the awesome responsibility of being a priest, a responsibility that is also a wonderful grace.”

The Diocese has assigned the Rev. John Skehan, most recently pastor of the Parish of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Bar Harbor, Stella Maris Parish in Bucksport, and St. Joseph Parish in Ellsworth, to take Morin’s place.

The Rev. Francis Morin, center, speaks with well-wishers Sunday in the basement of St. Augustine’s Church in Augusta. The former head of St. Michael Parish, which oversees a handful of Catholic churches in Augusta, Winthrop, Gardiner, Whitefield and Hallowell, is retiring after nine years in Augusta and a lifetime of priestly duties. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Starting July 1, St. Michael Parish was also expected have a new parochial vicar, who assists the pastor. The Nigerian-born the Rev. Patrick Efe-egiughwe Agbodi, parochial vicar since 2017, has been appointed parochial vicar at All Saints Parish in Brunswick. Replacing him will be the Rev. Michael Seavey, currently parochial vicar of St. Anne Parish in Gorham.

Morin said he knows both Skehan and Seavey and both will serve the parish well.

Morin came to become administrator of St. Michael Parish in 2009, coming from a similar role with St. Peter the Fisherman in Machias and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Calais.

A native of St. Albans in Queens, New York, Morin was the oldest child in a family of eight. He attended both public schools and St. John Grammar School in Winslow as a child.

He completed his clerical studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edward C. O’Leary in 1973 at St. John the Baptist in Winslow. His first assignment was as assistant pastor at Holy Cross Parish in South Portland. He has served as diocesan chaplain to the Boy Scouts of America, engaged in missionary work in Latin America and, for five years, ministered to Catholics in Bolivia. He returned to Maine in 1988, becoming pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Lewiston, then serving at churches in Portland and Downeast Maine.

Morin said he plans to live in Waterville after his retirement as parish administrator.

He was not new to Augusta, or even the Sand Hill area, when he was assigned to the parish.

His grandparents lived on the hill where they raised 10 children.

Pat Paradis, a former city councilor, state legislator and county treasurer, and a longtime St. Augustine parishioner, said he knew Morin’s family growing up in Augusta. He said the family was proud when Morin entered the priesthood. He said since he arrived Morin worked to become active in the community both within and outside the church, spreading the Gospel and living up to the Matthew 25 teachings of clothing those without clothes and feeding the hungry.

Paradis noted that, twice during Morin’s tenure, the parish was awarded Catholic Charities of Maine’s Matthew 25 award in recognition of efforts to serve the community.

“It’s given for a parish that exemplifies the work our Lord tells us we, as Christians, must do, that’s Father’s whole thing,” Paradis said. “He’s been able to involve the parishioners, challenging them to be more involved in the community. He’s done that by example.”

Morin could also frequently be found working and advocating with the leaders of other local religious organizations, including Rabbi Erica Asch of Temple Beth El, and the Rev. Carie Johnsen of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church, both in Augusta, and other members of the Capital Area Multi-faith Association.

“I’ve really appreciated working with Father Frank on so many different social issues here,” Johnsen said. “Things we’ve worked well together on include immigration, responding to some of the social needs around homelessness and hunger and we’ve worked together for several years now sponsoring a Martin Luther King Jr. event their congregation hosted at their church in Winthrop. We stand together on common ground. He’s down to earth, approachable, and generous. He’s a strong witness, and a solid minister.”

Paradis said years ago it would have been nearly unthinkable for the leaders of different religions to work so closely together.

Morin said he’s always jumped at an opportunity to work with the leaders of other religions, which he has found to be very meaningful.

Hundreds crowd into the basement of St. Augustine’s Church on Sunday in Augusta to wish the Rev. Francis Morin, right, well in retirement. He’s known for reaching out to immigrants and others in need and other social justice efforts. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The parish was once made up of eight churches, but the diocese, acting on a proposal from Morin, decided to close two of them, the former St. Andrews in Augusta and St. Leo’s in Litchfield, because the cost of running all eight churches had left the parish’s finances in the red.

In 2013 Morin also recommended Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallowell be closed, also to save funds. After an outcry in the community, the diocese decided to keep the church open. Morin says now, in hindsight, it was the right decision to keep it open.

Morin said he feels he is leaving the parish in a good state. He said the parish’s school, St. Michael School, is also running well and Principal Kevin Cullen is working with others on a plan to increase the number of students to 200, up from the approximately 170 registered for next school year. He said the number of students has stabilized and is starting to go back up, after previous years of decline.

Cullen said Morin is a role model, both for him, and St. Michael students.

“Father Frank is a truly great man, a personal hero of mine,” Cullen said. “He’s lived a life filled with Jesus Christ and has left his mark in such a positive way on St. Michael School, the St. Michael community, and all the Catholics in Maine over his 40 plus years as a priest.”

Morin’s immediate plans following his retirement from the parish include taking about a month off, attending conferences, and a trip to visit friends and relatives on the West Coast.

He’s looking forward to conducting Spanish masses, using language skills he learned while serving in Bolivia.

While he’s concerned cultural shifts have resulted in fewer Americans attending church regularly, he feels good about the future of the church.

“The church will survive, one way or another, we’ll adapt,” he said. “We always have.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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