PORTLAND – Several parishioners at St. Patrick Church in Portland are mounting what they call a last-ditch effort to save the Congress Street church from being sold and possibly demolished.
The parishioners started gathering signatures in support of their position after Masses this past weekend.
Those names will appear on a letter they plan to present to Bishop Richard J. Malone, who is currently serving as bishop in Buffalo, N.Y., but is also acting as apostolic administrator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
Though Malone has already signed the purchase and sales agreement, the parishioners are hoping he will reverse his decision. The sale is not yet final.
Pat Bernard, who lives near the church, is one of the leaders of the group, which hopes to convince Malone that selling the church is a bad idea.
“We want the bishop to reconsider his decision to sell the church,” Bernard said. “It really is last minute and we are not sure it will work. But we want people to know that we want the church saved.”
The Rev. James Lafontaine, the pastor of St. Patrick, said the church will host its final Mass at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 19. The Mass will be preceded by a Saturday open house and a Friday night concert featuring Schooner Fare. The church, which is located next to the Westgate Shopping Center on outer Congress Street, will close its doors for good Sunday night.
“We are trying to do everything we can to honor the church and its memories,” said Christina Smith, chairwoman of the parish council.
Lafontaine said the closing is expected to take place in August.
“We have a signed purchase and sales agreement. The buyer is finishing his due diligence. Once that is done they will apply for city permits,” Lafontaine said. “It’s all moving right along.”
Lafontaine said the buyer, Charter Realty Co., which owns the Westgate Shopping Center, has indicated it plans to demolish the 39-year-old church.
Lafontaine said the sale should not come as a surprise to anyone. The church hosted a town hall meeting for parishioners on the pending sale last fall and the sale was approved by members of the Our Lady of Hope Parish council and its finance committee.
St. Patrick Church, St. Joseph and St. Pius all belong to the Our Lady of Hope Parish, which was formed three years ago.
Lafontaine said the parish is currently running an annual deficit of about $85,000. Its membership is also declining. The sale is necessary to keep the parish, which also includes the St. Brigid School on Stevens Avenue, operating.
“It’s a sad day in one sense but it helps us build for the future,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday night.
“We were debt-free when they brought us into the cluster (of three churches),” she said. “We did not realize we would be operating under one budget.”
Bernard said the letter, which she says is not a petition, is gathering widespread support from parishioners.
Bernard has been attending St. Patrick for 37 years.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said of the pending closure.
Dave Guthro, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said he is aware of the letter. He doubts the decision to sell the church will be reversed by Malone.
“We’re saddened anytime we have to close a church. It’s a place where people are baptized and hold weddings. And it is the absolute last thing that we want to do,” Guthro said.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: