LEWISTON — The twin spires of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul could go dark this summer.

Less than $1,000 remains in the eight-year-old fund created to light the grand church, Ed Plourde, a parishioner who led the lighting effort, said. At its current rate, the money will be gone in six months.

“When the project was conceived it was not supposed to be a burden on the church,” Plourde said. “It was supposed to be a community effort, which it was.”

In 2003, donors paid about $25,000 for the network of lights that illuminate the basilica, New England’s second largest church.

They bought six 1,000-watt light fixtures surrounding the building and three 400-watt fixtures on the Bartlett Street side. Installation required trenches to be dug to hide wires.

People then donated about $17,000 more to fund maintenance, new bulbs and the monthly electricity bill, which typically runs about $150.

The lit church changed Lewiston-Auburn’s cityscape, Plourde said.

“This is a landmark that came alive,” he said. You could see it from the turnpike.”

Since then, no money has ever come in.

“There was no mechanism for making it public and collecting donations,” he said.

Creating an endowment that would perpetually fund the lighting would require too much upfront money, he said. 

Rather, he hopes that people might spend a few dollars to keep the lights on.

The Gothic cathedral-style building has dominated Lewiston’s daylight skyline for nearly 70 years. Work on the building began in 1905 and wrapped up almost 33 years later.

The lights go on at dusk. In the winter, they go off at 10 p.m. In the summer, they stay on until 11 p.m.

In 2008, the basilica’s lit steeples were joined by more lights.

The Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s, a former Catholic church in Lewiston’s Little Canada neighborhood, installed its own system.

They flipped the switch on a June night while about 100 people gathered to watch.

There, the lights are merely part of the building’s electrical system. Keeping them lit costs between $1,000 and $1,200 each year, said Rita Dube, who directs the center.

If someone would like to make a donation to the lighting of the basilica, they are encouraged to send a check to Basilica Lighting Fund, P.O. Box 1540, Lewiston, ME 04241-1540.

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