Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Not only has the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul been a center of spirituality and community over the years, but it has served as the religious genesis for thousands and thousands of couples and families.
Four different buildings on the site of the current Basilica have played host to weddings since the 1800s. A statistic from 1875 noted 46 marriages were performed at the red brick St. Peter’s Church that year. Following its demolition in the early 1900s, brides and grooms married in “The Shed” (a temporary church as a new one was constructed), and then in the lower “crypt” church that served as the new Saints Peter and Paul until the upper church was completed in 1936.
A parish report for 1906, published in the Daily Sun on Jan. 8, 1907, documented 122 marriages, or approximately two weddings a week. As the parish population increased, the number of marriages grew, peaking in 1950.
On Monday, Oct. 24, 1938 — the year the completed Saints Peter and Paul was dedicated — the Lewiston Daily Sun featured an engagement photograph of a smiling “bride to be.” The headline read: “Will be Bride in First Wedding at new SS. Peter and Paul Church.” The wedding, according to the morning news, was “taking place this morning when Miss Jacqueline E. Thibault of Lewiston becomes the bride of Laureat E. Roy of Auburn. Rev. Fr. Dumont of Fall River, Mass., a college friend of the bride’s father, will perform the double ring service, and music will be furnished by the parish organist, G.G. Giboin, and Louis Restori, vocalist, who will sing an Ave Maria. There will be no attendants.” Miss Thibault wore a floor-length gown of maroon velvet and carried a bouquet of white roses. She and Roy were married for 61 years.
In 1946, based on data compiled by the church and available at the Maine Franco-American Genealogical Society in Auburn, the number of weddings doubled. Returning GIs fueled an increase in marriages, and weddings took place on weekdays as well as Saturdays, both in the upper church and in the mezzanine-level “chapel.” On some Saturdays, as many as four weddings took place in the church. You might say it was a wedding factory.
Dot and Breezy
Dorothy “Dot” Christman of Lewiston, met her future husband, Alfred “Breezy” Galgovitch, at her family’s summer camp on Allen Pond. In 1942, Breezy and two of his buddies from Lisbon were camping at the pond. Dot drove by in a boat and invited Breezy and friends to pitch their tents at her family’s camp. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1943, Breezy joined the 10th Mountain Division of the 5th Army and served in Europe until he came home in 1946. He and Dot got married the same year at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 25. The wedding was performed by Father Cossette, who was also Dot’s high school catechism teacher. Although they had a full Mass in the upper church, Dot says the wedding was small because “everyone was working.” Dot wore the same dress her sister Germaine wore to get married the month before, on May 5, also at Saints Peter and Paul.
Was she nervous? “I didn’t have time to be nervous,” Dot said. “We were so busy. I was working as a telephone operator in Lewiston” right up until the wedding. After the wedding, she and Breezy moved to Lisbon Falls, where he worked at the Worumbo Mill. They raised four children and recently celebrated 71 years of wedded bliss. “I don’t know where the years went,” Dot said recently. They still spend time at Allen Pond.
Madeleine and Emilien
Madeleine Leblanc is a popular personality in Lewiston. Whether the 93-year-old is singing at the Basilica’s Saturday French Mass, performing with the Franco-American group Les Troubadours, or warning seniors about telephone scams, hers is a familiar face.
Born in Lewiston, the former Madeleine Morin met the love of her life, Emilien Ouellette, while working at the Androscoggin Mill. She was a battery hand and he was a weaver. They started dating at the suggestion of a friend and enjoyed dancing in their spare time. She and Emile married at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 22, 1948, at Saints Peter and Paul.
Wearing a dress designed to resemble her grandmother’s wedding gown, Madeleine confessed to being nervous before the ceremony. She was 15 minutes late, too, because she kept making final adjustments to her veil. Father Charbonneau officiated, and after the Ouellette’s said “I do,” the wedding party and 250 guests celebrated at the Jacques Cartier Hall on Lisbon Street. Accompanied by her aunt on the piano, Madeleine even performed a solo of Irving Berlin’s “Always” and dedicated it to her husband.
Emilien Ouellette died suddenly on Dec. 21, 1955. Madeleine remembers being in shock that Christmas, with her two young children, Ann and Andy. She would continue working in the mills and eventually remarry, but to this day, she keeps a photograph of Emile on her bedroom wall. “He was the love of my life,” she said.
Jennifer and Jonathan
On Aug. 19, 2017, Jennifer Roy and Jonathan LaBonte married at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Current members of the church, they both grew up attending other churches that are now closed; Jonathan was an alter server at St. Patrick’s church and Jennifer attended St. Joseph’s.
They kept their big day local with a rehearsal dinner at DaVinci’s and a reception at the Agora Grand Event Center. Jennifer said their wedding was exciting, and not once in the planning process did they consider other venues than those they selected. They had a guest list of approximately 150, and Jennifer said the traditional Catholic Mass was “calm and peaceful.”
Beginning with organist Scott Vaillancourt playing Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” to welcome the mothers and then Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for the processional, the hourlong ceremony “flew by so fast,” Jennifer said. Many of the LaBontes’ non-Catholic friends commented on how enjoyable the ceremony was in comparison to brief nontraditional services. The wedding was officiated by Father Nadeau.
It was a very special occasion for Jennifer’s grandmother, Florence, too. Almost 69 years ago to the day, young Florence Rivard married Gordon McGraw in the same spot. The Aug. 28, 1948, Evening Journal featured her wedding announcement, noting she wore a “gown of white slipper satin in the Victorian style with marquisette yoke framed with Chantilly-pattern lace, which was also used in tiers at the hem and running along the train. The veil, fingertip length, was trimmed with lace and fell from a tiara of orange blossoms. She carried a cascade bouquet of white roses and stephanotis centered with an orchid.”
Father Charbonneau officiated at the double-ring ceremony. The newlyweds then had a wedding breakfast at the Jacques Cartier Hall. Fortunately, for the McGraws, their wedding was at 8 a.m., before the mercury climbed to 85 degrees in the midst of a heatwave that had gripped the city for several days.
The weddings continue
Although weddings at the Basilica are fewer these days, marriage remains a sacrament — a sign of grace — for Catholics. The LaBontes’ 2017 wedding was likely quite similar to the Roys’ 1938 wedding in ceremony, sanctity and celebration. Undertaken in seriousness, engaged men and women today are required by the Catholic Church to participate in a marriage preparation program prior to their wedding. The goal remains to ready them for a lifetime commitment, which, as Dot and Breezy prove, can be a long and rewarding span of time.
On June 25, 1946, newlyweds Dorothy “Dot” and Alfred “Breezy” Galgovitch posed happily on the granite steps of Saints Peter and Paul Church.
Seventy-one years after they were married, Dot and Breezy Galgovitch are still happy and looking good.
With the Basilica’s familiar woodwork in the background, Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette — Madeleine Morin (now Leblanc) and Emilien Ouellette — posed for some final church pictures before leaving for their reception at the Jacques Cartier Hall in 1948.
Jennifer Roy and Jonathan LaBonte pose for photos after their wedding ceremony at the Basilica on Aug. 19 of this year.
Miss Florence Rivard married Mr. Gordon McGraw on Aug. 28, 1948, at Saints Peter and Paul Church. Sixty-nine years later, their granddaughter, Jennifer Roy, married Jonathan LaBonte at the same church (see their photo with this story).
Madeleine Morin and Emilien Ouellette await Father Charbonneau to exchange their vows at Saints Peter and Paul Church’s former altar rail on May 22, 1948.
Share your memories
ABOUT THIS SERIES: The Sun Journal is celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, which was completed in 1936-1937. For a year, we are taking a close look at the iconic structure, its history and even some of the people who built it. We will explore rooms behind the high altar, crawl along the catwalk, explore the cellars and rooftop carvings, and peek into drawers and cabinets in the sacristy. We’ll show you historical photos and compare them with current images of the basilica. We’ll also speak with basilica experts and comb through historical documents to uncover some of the 80-year-old church’s enduring myths and mysteries. The entire series is being archived at sunjournal.com/basilica.