WATERVILLE – The gold cross and ball at the top of the steeple of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church was removed and lowered Tuesday, 139 years after it was erected.

The steeple and bell tower were to be dismantled later in the day.

“My great-grandparents were married there, my parents were married there and I was baptized there,” Robert Chenard, 75, said as he and others watched the removal from an Elm Street lot.

“We have six generations with that church. I feel like it’s part of us, it’s been there so long; but you have to move on.”

The director of the Maine Franco-American Genealogy Society and a local historian, Chenard said he has lived on Pleasant Street, just behind the church, since he was 3.

It was with mixed feelings that he watched a large crane from W.H. Green & Sons, of Augusta, remove the cross and ball.

“It’s part of my culture; it’s part of my being,” Chenard said.

After the steeple’s removal, Danley Demolition Co. Inc., of Fremont, N.H., was scheduled to raze the rest of the church and plans to have the property cleaned up by a week from Friday, according to Allen Mitchell, of Dicon, a construction company owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Mitchell, who was at the site, is clerk of the works for the project, which will include building affordable housing for seniors on the land. The general contractor is Zachau Construction Inc., of Freeport.

The parish hall and rectory next to the church at 52 Elm St. were removed earlier this month.

The 21,388-square-foot high-maintenance church was for sale for about four years and attracted no buyers before the decision was made to demolish it.

The Diocese’s Bureau of Housing bought the property from the parish and got the mortgage through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A separate company, St. Francis Apartments, Inc., was created to operate the future housing complex.

The planned 34,071-square-foot building, designed by CWS Architects, of Portland, will be three stories and 40 units. People 62 and older whose incomes qualify under HUD standards will be tenants. Parish facilities manager Mike Hebert said if all the applicants for housing qualify, the units will be full on the first day. The building is expected to be completed in June 2014 and future expansion is possible.