Almost 200 people gathered with Bishop Robert Deeley at St. Joseph’s Church in Bridgton on Saturday August 21 for a Mass and Eucharistic procession on the occasion of a golden anniversary.
âIt is a joy to be with you for this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the consecration of this Saint Joseph Church and the establishment of a parish in Bridgton with a mission in Fryeburg,â said the bishop. “Happy birthday!”
Parishioners filled the pews for Anniversary Mass much as they did on August 22, 1971, when Bishop Peter Gerety, the eighth bishop of Portland, blessed and dedicated the new church.
South High Street Church was built to serve a Catholic community that began to take root in the early 20’se century and continued to grow. The faithful first gathered in houses and halls with a priest traveling from the city of Norway, when possible, to celebrate mass. Then, in 1924, the Catholic community bought an old Unitarian church. At first, Mass was only celebrated during the summer months, when vacationers in the Lake District swelled the population. Soon, however, it became a year-round church, and soon after it became clear that a new place of worship was needed.
âWhen we were downtown at the other church, there were so many people that they were on the streets because there wasn’t enough room in the church. And that’s one of the reasons this church was built, âsaid Pat McHatton, longtime parishioner and president of the Women’s Guild.
âI remember Masses spilling out regularly outside during the summer,â recalls Elaine Spenciner, who made her First Communion in the old church. “The priest would come to the side door and distribute Communion to people outside.”
In 1968, when Father Gilbert Patenaude became pastor of the parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Norway, of which St. Joseph was a mission, he proposed both to build a new church and to establish St. Joseph as a separate parish.
âWith the appointment of Fr. Gilbert Patenaude as parish priest, this community has acquired a solidity and an identity. It was the community that needed a Church, a place of gathering, a place to learn from Jesus, a place to get along and a place to renew itself in the Eucharist, the sacramental presence of Jesus who brought comfort and strength to the disciples and the crowds who gathered around Jesus and who continue to bring comfort and strength to you and me, disciples of Jesus today. It is the community which comes together in this Church which finds its meaning and its mission in this celebration of the Eucharist. It is the community that is gathered by the Lord Jesus to remember that God is with us. Jesus is the Lord and places at our disposal the presence of God and his love â, declared the bishop during the anniversary mass.
The land was laid for the new church in the fall of 1970, and thanks to the generosity of parishioners, including the donation of land by Fred and Mary Reynolds of Bridgton, the church opened two years later. The church was designed by AC Pasquale and CW Curtis of P&C Allied Architects and Designers of New York City and Southwest Harbor.
Since its doors opened, many have come to worship there, describing it as a place of warmth that makes them feel at home.
âThrough the changes and upheavals of life, it has always been a refuge for me. No matter how good or bad things are, I can always find a sense of peace there, âsaid Spenciner.
âIt’s just a very friendly ward,â said Bob Pelletier, Knights of Columbus Council member 11376, who helped lead parishioners as they went to mass. âYou can see me greet everyone who passes by. I know them all.
In addition to being a friendly parish, it is active, with parishioners involved in the church and in the community. Members of the Knights of Columbus, for example, are working on the upkeep of the church, including helping to keep it clean and safe during the pandemic. The Knights also run a Tootsie Roll Drive campaign every year to raise funds for agencies in the area that help people with developmental disabilities, help older people in the area with gardening and other household chores, and support Mother Seton House in Fryeburg, a non-profit organization that provides housing, education, counseling and other support services for pregnant women and new mothers.
âWe are very, very active. I have been part of three other councils in my life, and it is arguably the most active that I have seen, âsaid Pelletier, knight for 35 years.
The Women’s Guild, on the other hand, served the community long before the construction of the current church. In addition to supporting parish activities, the guild awards two continuing education scholarships of $ 2,000 each year. Anyone who wants to continue their education, whether they are a high school student on their way to college or someone who needs training for a job, is eligible.
âWe all participate and we all wear different hats and we just keep doing it all,â McHatton said.
Members of the Knights and the Women’s Guild, as well as lay Dominicans and lay Franciscans, were among those leading the Eucharistic procession held at the end of the anniversary mass. Father Edward Clifford, parish priest, Father Arockia Natha Prabu Magimaidass, HGN, parish vicar of the parish, and Mgr. Paul Stefanko, who once served in the parish.
During the procession, Bishop Deeley carried the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, while parishioners holding candles followed. They walked to an outside altar, where prayers were offered, then continued around the church, returning to the pews inside.
The 50 of the parishe anniversary coincided with the celebration of the Year of St. Joseph, and just before Mass, Father Clifford led the congregation in prayer, concluding a nine-day novena (nine days of prayer) to St. Joseph.
At the end of the Mass and the Eucharistic procession, there was an outdoor barbecue organized by the Knights.