Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts. The first part ran Sunday, June 4.
Catherine Malo has boxes of articles and photographs of her great-grandfather, Louis Malo. Lesser-known stories about him have been passed down from his seven children (six sons and a daughter). Grandchildren and great-grandchildren keep the stories alive over Easter and Christmas dinners.
Each relative remembers different things about the Lewiston man who, with his well-known construction company, Louis Malo & Sons, created the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
A cousin in Wilmington, Massachusetts, has a piece of granite left over from the job site. He used it “as the cornerstone of his fireplace,” Catherine said. “He has the company’s old tools and cleaved the granite himself, as his contractor was too afraid to ruin the stone. He also has more stone in his basement. And my uncle here in town said he had some in his retaining wall. I guess they didn’t want to waste the leftovers.”
Family legend has it that Louis would watch the progress of what was then Saints Peter and Paul Church with a telescope from the family home on the corner of East Avenue and Malo Street. Great-granddaughter Carolyn Arenburg confirmed: “Louis used the telescope to keep an eye on the staff. He had strict rules, particularly about smoking on the scaffolds. He would sometimes sit on the porch and look down to the construction site to ensure they were not smoking or doing anything else that could put the employee at risk.”
The sightline from his home to the church would have been clear. The trees were smaller then and Lewiston High School had not been built.
A surprising picture in Catherine Malo’s collection is of the ice palace built during one of the early snowshoe conventions in Lewiston. “It was built by Malo & Sons,” she says. “I’d have loved to see that.”
Louis Malo also completed the masonry on the 1925 renovation of the Kennedy Park Bandstand. The inauguration of the bandstand took place on Aug. 6, 1925, with a concert by the Brigade Band and a solo by soprano Eva Malo, Louis’ only daughter. Granddaughter Diane Malo Williams remembered Aunt Eva as a “well-known singer.”
Louis Malo died unexpectedly of a heart attack on the evening of April 5, 1938, at the age of 66. He was playing cards at home. While he lived to see the completion of the structure, he would not see the dedication of Saints Peter and Paul church several months later.
Arenburg said that “contrary to popular belief, my great-grandfather did not make much money while building the Basilica,” but “he met his payroll EVERY week, a gigantic feat during the Depression. From what I understand, he made sure all his employees were paid before taking pay for himself.”
Before his death, Malo donated the prominent four-paneled stained-glass window behind the altar in the sanctuary. Arenburg said her great-grandfather referred to the window as “the window of profit” because he used the money he made (from construction of the church) to buy the window.”
Williams said her grandfather is remembered by his descendants as “a humble man. He just saw construction as his work, that’s what he did.”
Malo managed the construction of a number of architecturally significant buildings in Lewiston and the state of Maine, including Saints Peter & Paul School on Bates Street in Lewiston; Marcotte Home in Lewiston (Maison Marcotte, completed in 1928); Holy Cross Church in Lewiston; the Knights of Columbus Building in Lewiston (in 1928); the north and south wing additions to the University of Maine’s Stevens Hall (1932-1933); Saint Mary’s Church in Augusta (1926-1927); and St. Mary’s Church in Lewiston (1928).
His obituary, printed in the Lewiston Evening Journal on April 6, 1938, noted his family and his work were his chief interests in life. The headline characterized him as “a fine type of man” and the obituary honored him by noting his love of work and family, his civic activities and his good reputation around the state for his work.
In May 2005, days before Saints Peter and Paul Church was inaugurated as a basilica on May 22, Lewiston officials proclaimed the date Basilica Recognition and Louis P. Malo Day.
Send us 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.