JAY — The Rev. Paul Dumais of St. Joseph Parish in Farmington and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Jay still reminisces about his first taste of sourdough bread when he worked on a wheat farm in Kansas over 20 years ago.

“I still can remember biting into a chunk of sourdough, wood-fired, walnut raisin … boule that kind of awakened in me this sort of recognition that bread was actually food,” Dumais said while standing in the Jay parish kitchen with yeast permeating the air. “I had never thought about it as food before, I thought about it as a carrier for food.”

After developing baking into a hobby and attending workshops at Skowhegan’s bread kneading conference, Dumais established Ora Breads in 2018, a volunteer-based baking guild. About 12 volunteers and one paid intern rotate through the Jay parish kitchen throughout a month to produce sourdough boules, loaf breads and dinner rolls for local grocery stores, the Farmington Diner and for parish suppers.

Thursdays are busy in the St. Rose of Lima parish kitchen in Jay. Ora Breads intern Ganchimeg Gombojav weighs out portions of sourdough to be baked. In the background, the Rev. Paul Dumais shows newest volunteer Ava Moffett how to make dinner rolls that will be sold to the Farmington Diner. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“That was our idea, to provide bread for the community in a variety of ways, community suppers, the blessing boxes, the free meals as well as outlets like Tranten’s and the Better Living Center,” Dumais said while watching 19-year-old intern Ganchimeg Gombojav mix a batch of sourdough that would ferment overnight. 

“This is part of the whole process, is to look for young people in the community that would want to grow into this process, assist and potentially lead, and potentially even a paid internship,” Dumais said. 

Gombojav, who plans to attend culinary school at Southern Maine Community College once in-person courses are a guarantee again, has been working with Ora Breads since March. She handled the previous day’s sourdough with a confident ease as she portioned the dough into individual boules to be baked after another slow rise.


“I do like this job,” she said. “It’s not just like a fast food job, it’s baking. Even though it’s pretty stressful and there’s a lot going on, it is fun and it’s interesting to do and there’s a lot to learn,” she said while inspecting steaming buckwheat for a future batch of prairie seed loaf bread.

Dumais said he was impressed with Gombojav’s dedication as she learns the process of different breads, and he was able to take a vacation recently while she oversaw Ora’s production. After working for the guild, Dumais suspects that Gombojav will easily find employment at a bakery.

“What she’s learning and what we’re doing is really a professional method and that’s the point,” Dumais said.

Ganchimeg Gombojav, 19, has been interning with Ora Breads since March and said her favorite is the sourdough shown in the kettle because of its smooth texture. Andrea Swiedom

The name of the guild also reflects the dedication to one’s labor. Dumais said the word Ora comes from the Benedictine Latin motto ora et labora, meaning pray and work.

“I think parish churches should be productive in the sense that we should as a community, we should be giving,” he said. “I think there’s kind of a tired stereotype that churches take. But I mean, we depend on people’s generosity, their charity but it’s not, it shouldn’t be, take, take, take. It should be productive in the sense that if people are entrusting us with their hard-earned money, there’s a sense of responsibility and partnership.”

Dumais views the guild as a creative way to engage with Catholics and even those with no religious affiliation since the group not only feeds the community at parish suppers and provides bread for the blessing boxes, located outside of both parishes, but it also teaches people the baking process through periodic classes and offers a volunteer opportunity.


“I really enjoy not only what it’s about, but the fact that I’m part of a very successful community-involved program. So it’s not just about volunteering, it’s about what it’s doing,” volunteer Terry Cullenberg said while flouring baskets that would hold the sourdough boules in the oven. 

Because the guild is dedicated to producing artisanal breads and always striving to reach the level of quality of that memorable walnut-raisin sourdough, Dumais views Ora Breads as a way to equalize relations between people.

“We’re in this cycle that’s so divisive, there’s nothing more unifying than, I mean, I presume that’s where this expression comes from, breaking bread. It becomes an expression of friendship and so we want that,” Dumais said. “We want friendship for ourselves and the community and we want our bread to be a catalyst, if you will, for friendship and for conversation in the most basic, universal and unifying way.”

As Dumais continued to explain his belief in good food and good bread unifying people, Ora’s newest volunteer, 15-year-old Ava Moffett, informed him that she was ready to learn how to make three dozen dinner rolls.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.