BIDDEFORD – The final Mass has been celebrated at St. Andre Church, and the fate of the prominent building is uncertain.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is rescinding the sacredness of the church, said Dave Twomey, chief financial officer for the diocese.

After that is done, the building, which hosted its last Mass on Dec. 31, most likely will be put up for sale. It will be Biddeford’s second church in Good Shepherd Parish to go on the market.

St. Mary of the Assumption Church closed in 2009 as the parish consolidated. It has been on the market since May.

“Over a course of years, we sold a number of churches,” Twomey said. “The real estate market is still quite depressed, and the bigger (the churches) are, it is harder to sell.”

St. Mary of the Assumption, a building of more than 9,000 square feet, is listed with CBRE/The Boulos Co. for $649,900. John Leahy, the listing agent, said places of worship often need prospective buyers with a little extra creativeness.

“Ideas run the full gamut,” Leahy said, from housing to community programs or other nonprofit uses. He said facilities in the diocese have been well kept, which has helped to maintain their integrity.

St. Michael Church in South Berwick was closed in 2006 as part of a merger with Our Lady of Peace Parish that formed Our Lady of the Angels Parish. In 2008, the town bought the building for $875,000, said Assistant Town Manager Roberta Orsini.

The town had been searching for larger space for its library for nine years, she said, and the church is right downtown.

“The building appeared to be perfect for a library,” she said. “The main floor is 5,000 square feet, which is vastly larger than the postage stamp where our current library is.”

While smaller churches tend to sell quicker, Norman Parisien of Signature Realty understands the value of a well-kept church. He is the listing agent for Seacoast Chapel on Jefferson Street in Biddeford. The church sold the chapel when it relocated to Saco, but the current owner has had it on the market for years and the building is in disrepair.

“Nobody can come up with the general funding, have the financial capacity and then the technical ability to rehab something like this,” Parisien said.

The price of the building has been reduced from $199,900 to $89,900 over the course of its listing, which Parisien hopes will help prospective buyers.

“It would be nice for the city to have something done with this building,” he said, noting that he has been surprised with all the uses prospective buyers have envisioned.

During his 16 years with the diocese, Twomey, the chief financial officer, said he has seen small- to medium-size churches converted into homes or businesses, and larger churches turned into heritage centers, including the Maine Irish Heritage Center in the former St. Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church in Portland.

Other innovative church conversions include The Landing, an events center at Pine Point in Scarborough, and Grace restaurant in Portland.

Jim Ciampi, who owns The Landing with Kevin McQuinn, said the former summer mission church offered a fine venue, with its wide-open interior, high ceilings and proximity to the beach.

Peter and Anne Verrill, who own the Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, opened Grace in the former Chestnut Street United Methodist Church in 2009.

“Our Realtor told us to check this out,” Anne Verrill said of the church. “We walked in and immediately decided this was it.”

Verrill said that throughout the renovations, the couple complied with historic preservation guidelines and tailored their restaurant to emulate the architecture.

“We got a certain amount of flak from people who thought it was blasphemous” to open a bar in a former church, Verrill said.

But Ciampi and Verrill said they also have received support from former parishioners who appreciate the innovate reuses of church buildings.

“It’s got a lot of history and a lot of memories,” Ciampi said of the building he renovated. “People come in and there are a lot of tears. They are so happy to come back and see it.”

Said Verrill: “We’ve had everybody from former ministers to people who have married here that have been thrilled for us. They were thrilled not to have it crumble.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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