AUBURN — Where will the historic St. Louis bells end up, and how will they be displayed?

Those are questions that a new nine-member committee will work toward answering, as city officials begin a “new approach” for designing the project.

As the committee is formed, wheels are also turning to collaborate with an architecture professor and students from Central Maine Community College on the design.

The four bells, cast at the world-famous Paccard Foundry in France in 1915, were used in the tower at St. Louis Parish in Auburn until its closure in 2013.

When the church closed, Auburn residents responded quickly, raising some $12,000 to purchase the bells from the Catholic Diocese of Maine. The city has since been planning how to incorporate them into the New Auburn neighborhood. 

At a public meeting Friday at Auburn Hall, City Planner Doug Greene led a discussion among a handful of residents and those interested in the bells’ fate.

According to Greene, Mayor Jonathan LaBonte forwarded the idea of partnering with the community college, and said the committee “will play an advisory role on the design and ultimate construction of a tower in New Auburn to house the bells.” 

Dan Moreno, a professor in the Architectural and Civil Engineering Technology program at CMCC, said the design will depend entirely on what residents want to see. 

A quick sketch done by Greene was shared with those attending the meeting, which depicts a tower-like structure that could potentially house the bells, while also celebrating the history of the former church.

Those in attendance were in favor of working with the college on the design.

City Councilor Leroy Walker said the most immediate step is to settle on a location for the bells. However, planning and funding considerations are a major component of the project. 

The New Auburn neighborhood is set to receive a face-lift over the next few years, during phased construction of the New Auburn Village Center project. The project is designed to create a pedestrian-friendly area with trails along the Androscoggin River. Officials believe the changes will invite more economic development, and attract residents with more green space, trees, public plazas and spots for outdoor performances, festivals and markets.

Concept designs for the project have depicted the bells displayed throughout, but residents have said the four bells should be displayed together. 

Greene said the first phase of redevelopment is almost entirely funded by grants and will be constructed this year. He said the bell project would most likely fall into the second phase of work, which also includes the trail construction. That may not happen for another two years. 

Alan Manoian, the city’s former economic development specialist, made the trip from Massachusetts for the meeting. He was heavily involved in the process to save the bells during the church’s closing.

He said the bells aren’t just an Auburn landmark, “They’re a Maine treasure.”

Manoian said the only other Paccard Foundry bell in Maine is at the State House in Augusta. 

Each is marked with Latin inscriptions, detailing for whom they were cast and the date and location of the church.

Two were built to commemorate the lives of Auburn businessman and Alderman Pierre Provost and his family. A third commemorated longtime New Auburn baker Phillipe DuPont, and the fourth a Parish priest, the Rev. Henri Gory.

One resident suggested the bells be returned to the church tower. 

Christine Holden, a member of the group that owns the church, said because of complications the group is not in the position to do anything with the church. 

“We have very little control over the building at the moment,” she said.

Walker said that from the beginning the majority of feedback from residents has suggested a new tower be designed to display the bells. 

Greene said the committee will meet monthly until the project is complete. 

“We don’t want to see this languish,” he said. 


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