LEWISTON — Kenneth V. Rancourt, former Catholic chaplain for Bates College and a beloved member of the pastoral team at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center known for soothing troubled souls with music, has died.
Rancourt, 77, had been ill for some time. He died last week after a short stay at The Hospice House in Auburn. By Monday, more than three dozen people had left messages on Rancourt's online memorial.
"Kenn, you helped us all see the brighter side of life at St Mary's. Your personality and spoken words will live on in the hearts of many," wrote one woman who signed her name only as Heather. "In your lifetime you brought many people out of darkness. The differences and accomplishments you have made in life are things that some people only wish they could do. May you rest proud and in peace. You will never be forgotten by the people and lives you have touched."
Rancourt was born in 1935 in Waterville, according to an obituary prepared by his family. He attended seminary in Massachusetts and was ordained an Oblate of Mary Immaculate Priest. He spent more than 15 years serving as guest preacher and retreat director to parishes throughout New England.
In 1971 he began serving as Catholic chaplain at Bates College in Lewiston. Rarely without his guitar, "Father Kenn" developed a parish-like community at the college with his unique weekend liturgies and spiritual messages delivered through music.
"Everybody just loved him, the guitar priest. And he just had a way, too, of interpreting the scriptures. Just really an understanding of the humanity of Jesus," said Sister Suzanne Beaudoin, director of pastoral care at St. Mary's and Rancourt's friend and colleague for 46 years.
In 1974 Rancourt retired from active priesthood and became activities director at Clover Manor in Auburn. He married in 1975 and in 1978 joined the St. Mary's pastoral team, where he was known as a kind-hearted man and a gifted listener.
For about the past 20 years Rancourt focused his work on the hospital's behavioral unit, ministering to patients dealing with mental health problems and struggling to overcome addiction.
"He gave them hope, I think. Hope that things can be better and could be better and would be better. And that was one of Kenn's highlights: He believed in people," Beaudoin said. "He believed in the good in every person and helped them to find it. And to believe in themselves. And to believe that God loves them."
Like he did at Bates, Rancourt delivered his message of love, hope and God through music. He often asked troubled patients to write a poem about their feelings, then put those poems to music for them.
"He had a gift of getting people to bring out their pain. Because when you get the pain out, it doesn't hurt as much," Beaudoin said.
Rancourt loved working with patients. Although that work became more difficult while he was ill, he found a way. Sometimes that meant taking oxygen in his office before going up to the patient floor to run his group sessions.
In January, Rancourt became too ill to continue, Beaudoin said.
Although Rancourt is gone, the work he started at St. Mary's will continue.
"But it's never going to be the way Kenn did it," Beaudoin said. "There's never going to be another Kenn. He was unique."
Rancourt is survived by numerous family members, including his wife, Jocelyne, his son, Eric, his daughter, Nicole, and his two grandchildren, Emily and Sophia.