D. Willette: Losing Lewiston's heritage

How can the citizens of Lewiston turn their backs on the loss of their cultural identity?

St. Joseph’s Church is more than a “vacant building in need of repair.” It was once an umbilical cord that nourished the Irish, Italian and French-Canadian Catholics of Lewiston.

It did not matter if they wove wool for Bates or dyed cloth for Pepperell, Lewiston’s earliest residents were of equal status in their faith. In church, these proud men and women could share the word of God and their stories from their hometowns outside of Quebec or Sherbrook.

St Joseph’s served as the nucleus that powered its members to create a city that is synonymous with French-Canadian culture in Maine.

So why are the current citizens of Lewiston allowing the destruction of what was once a beacon, guiding thousands of souls through challenging times?

In the words of Joni Mitchell: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” At one time, St. Joseph’s was a paradise of opportunity.

It saddens me to think that the cornerstones of a community can be eradicated in such a cold, heartless manner.

The people of Lewiston have lost so much already. They should not allow men with “vision,” but who are wearing blinders, to take any more away.

Dennis Willette, South Berwick

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Lewiston's cultural indentity falling like dominoes...

Let's see.

The United Methodist church gone for parking... The Empire Theater... And now St. Joseph's.

When are you going to stand up and defend yourselves?

Stop being so servile!

Jeff Johnson's picture


The money to preserve this church comes from where?

A Catholic charity? Why that makes no sense, because catholics couldn't support it in the first place.

Tax money? Hmmm... a little slippery slope there mixing religion and state money, even using a historical excuse.

If a group wants to get together and beat CMMC's offer for the property, them I'm all for it... otherwise, let it be and lament the fact that you didn't support the church when you had the chance.

Jason Theriault's picture

Your letter is stuck in the past.

"So why are the current citizens of Lewiston allowing the destruction of what was once a beacon, guiding thousands of souls through challenging times?"

Because it is no longer a beacon. The Roman Catholic church is no longer the center of our cultural identity. Now, I could get into it here about how the church turned it's back on us, but it changes little who forsake who. The fact is that numbers( and donations) are declining, and the church needs to consolidate.

Now, if you want to turn this into a lament on falling numbers of faithful, I would say the Church needs to look to itself. It needs to look to how it has served it's flock, and where it has failed it.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

So, they should be punished,

So, they should be punished, right? How did the Church turn its back on us? I'd be interested in hearing your version.

Jason Theriault's picture


Well, first of all, I think the church has gotten too political. Like here in Maine, fighting the same sex marriage laws has put the Catholic church out front on an issue that most young people like my self see completely differently. I can understand them being out in front on abortion, I can even appreciate it. However, every time you pick an issue to be very visible on, your alienate people. You make people feel less and less at home until they see the church as an adversary instead of a community. And since young people have been on the other side lately of these issues, alot of us leave the church as they feel no longer welcome.

Then there is trust. Every group has bad apples, and the church is no different. However, most groups, when they learn there is a bad apple, throw that apple away. The church should have turned the priests over immediately. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:21, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's". The church shouldn't have tried to police itself, but instead allow civil authorities to handle crimes, and focus on helping the priests spiritually. But because they tried to handle it themselves, to many it appeared as if they were trying to hide the problem, and is why alot of the trust is gone.

And trust is key to faith. You have to trust that the church is guiding you correctly, that their vision is correct. If you can't trust their judgement on pretty cut and dry issues like that pedophiles need to go to jail, how do you trust them on the gray issues, which are most of the things we face everyday?

The new Pope is interesting. It will be interesting to see where he leads the church, but it will take alot of work to bring my generation back.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The Catholic Church has been

The Catholic Church has been against abortion and homosexuality/same-sex marriage since I can remember. Why is one acceptable to you (their position on abortion) and the other, you consider them as turning their back on you (same sex marriage)? Is it because you approve of one and not the other? The Church has long been in opposition to both. Being against homosexuality or same sex marriage is not a new position for them.
BTW--Zack wants to know where you implied that the Church should be punished.

Jason Theriault's picture


I don't have a problem with their stance on abortion because when the issue involves a human life, I want both sides to fight hard. With abortion, I want both sides to get all the issues out there, because abortions are awful. I would structure our laws differently personally, but I also know that privacy is a slippery slope, and once you start telling a person what they can do with their body, it could end up going very badly.

Same sex marriage, on the other hand, gets as much of a reaction(if not more), yet no one dies, no one is even hurt. The parts of the bible that say homosexuality are sinful also says that three days is too long for holy leftovers, slavery is goo, lobster is bad, and if you're wife is menstruating, it's best to throw her out until that business is over.

It's goes back to trust. We need spiritual leaders who can separate the important stuff from the sillyness, and their full court press on homosexuality shows that they are not up to the task.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Perhaps they don't consider

Perhaps they don't consider homosexuality to be "silliness". As Catholics, do we play by the rules, or do we practice our own rules, or the ones we like, and criticize the Church for not being "up to the task"?

Zack Lenhert's picture

I can see for myself that he

I can see for myself that he didn't imply that at all, I was trying to figure out where YOU saw that. You have a talent for misrepresenting others words and ideas.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Compliment accepted.

Compliment accepted.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

P.S. I do agree with the

I do agree with the contents of your second paragraph. Do the crime, do the time, should have been the rule all along.

Zack Lenhert's picture

Where does Jason even imply

Where does Jason even imply that they should be "punished"?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I'm sure if it's important to

I'm sure if it's important to him, he will ask me himself.

Jason Theriault's picture


I just ignored it. I don't think the church should be punished.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I am all for historical preservation, but.......

I am all for historical preservation. I always root for saving, if possible, any historic location. My question is the result of hearing case after case of old buildings on the verge of destruction, being saved. Almost every time the issue comes up, it's after major damage has been done as a result of neglect. Often the cost just to stabilize an older, crumbling building is astronomical. With every year that goes by, it gets even more expensive.
Would it be possible to monitor historical buildings, and pay attention to the occupancy and maintenance of potential historic sites. I just feel it would be much more cost effective to save a building before it is allowed to fall into disrepair. I know Historical societies are in most towns. I would think it would be to their advantage to watch and take action as soon as possible. Maybe this approach could save more memories................................

Jiu Jitsu?

One would think Central Maine Healthcare would turn this controversy to its advantage by saving and repurposing this iconic church as a hospital chapel / conference hall / display area. The heritage structure is an integral part of Lewiston's identity and an engaging organization would see the value of this and capitalize on it.


MARK GRAVE's picture

Isn’t is a bit ironic that no

Isn’t is a bit ironic that no one utters a word one steps forward to salvage the historic building until someone with deep pockets purchases the property an wants to raze the building.

CMMC should just ignore all the pressure and move forward as planned. You folks had you chance to salvage the building, yet you failed to act.

Zack Lenhert's picture

This is true.... the whole

This is true.... the whole community did nothing but watch this building degrade for years, and now that someone is actually taking action on the property it is suddenly treasure to the community.

Jim Cyr's picture

Losing Lewiston's heritage

is what the "Progressives" call progress ! We have lost so many icons that define our unique Maine and New England heritage !

Zack Lenhert's picture

How does this have anything

How does this have anything to do with "progressives"? Nobody is cheering for the destruction of local history.


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