NORWAY – Around 500 grateful parishioners turned out to say goodbye Sunday to the Rev. Maurice T. Lebel, who is retiring June 30 after 37 years as a priest.

Lebel only served three years at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway, and Our Lady of the Snows in Bethel, but that was plenty of time to endear himself to his parishioners.

“He’s touched everyone here,” said Elaine Pepin, St. Catherine’s secretary. “I have never met a priest so down to earth.”

Pepin said Lebel had a gift, through his homilies, for relating the lessons of the gospel in the Bible to current everyday life.

“He’s very knowledgeable in his theology, but he comes across so we can understand him,” Pepin said. “And he leaves us with a great thought for the coming week.”

Lebel, who also led parishes at St. John’s Church in Bangor and St. Mary’s Church in Presque Isle, said it’s not uncommon for a priest to stay at a parish a few years, then move on.

“It’s hard on the people. They get to know you and all of a sudden you say goodbye,” he said.

Lebel is retiring at the same time as the Rev. Don McAllister, the native son of the parish and the chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Portland. McAllister assisted Lebel with masses at the two parishes on weekends “and it was a great help,” Lebel said.

Lebel led a Saturday afternoon mass at Our Lady of the Snows, and a Saturday night and two Sunday masses at St. Catherine’s. The Norway church has around 300 families, while Our Lady of the Snows has around 85 families.

Lebel’s replacement will be the Rev. Gerald Levesque from The Auburn Catholic Community, which serves three parishes in Auburn. Lebel himself served with the Auburn Catholic Community before coming to Norway and Bethel.

For Lebel, who will be relocating to the southern part of the state, retirement from active priesthood at age 70 means “slowing down and picking and choosing as much ministry as I feel comfortable doing. The big thing I’m looking forward to is personal flexibility.”

He said there’s a great need for prayer in the world today.

“We have to turn the world again to the way God created it, and we need to nurture its creation, and that begins with our own heart,” Lebel said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

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