Anyone who has ever sat in an unforgiving wooden pew at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Little Canada would simply not recognize what’s become of this exquisite little church.

The building where the city’s French-Canadian immigrants once worshipped now protects their cultural identity.

It’s an identity that the city is set to celebrate next weekend with the Festival FrancoFun, a reincarnation of the 12-year-old annual Festival de Joie.

Gov. Baldacci made a campaign stop at the Franco American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s Tuesday and the place was alive with pride, bustling with staff and volunteers and splendid in its dignity.

This building, approaching 100 years old, has fulfilled its mission to become a performing arts center, a museum and a community learning center. It will be the focal point of the Festival FrancoFun and we encourage you to visit.

The wooden pews have been replaced with a riser filled with theater-style seats. While there is not a bad seat in the house, the back seats – positioned just below the ornate stained glass windows – offer the grandest view of the concert hall and, quite possibly, the best acoustical experience.

On Friday, the hall will host The Silvertones, Present Company, Just Us, Melanie Saucier and, finally, Frank Glazer performing on the center’s new Steinway grand piano.

On Saturday, the festival will move to the Colisee, with performances by Westphalia, Greg Guay, the Leblanc Family and Gizelle Laliberte.

Then, on Sunday, the festival moves back to St. Mary’s, with an afternoon performance by Dominica Merola and an encore presentation of “Lewiston – A New Home in Concert,” a musical adaptation of the play written to commemorate Lewiston’s bicentennial.

There will, of course, be meals served at St. Mary’s on each of the festival days and the center’s museum collection will be on exhibit, including tapestries, tools, household goods, clothes, furniture and photographs that capture the local Franco-American heritage. It’s a collection worth viewing and the center is a destination worth traveling to.

St. Mary’s – a place to celebrate culture and family – is as much a fixture in the Franco community now as it was when it was the community’s parish.

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