Despite an official search being suspended weeks ago, volunteers continue to search for a missing priest with ties to Waterville, and the family continues to hope he’ll return home safely.

Clement Thibodeau, 85, a retired priest who served as the pastor at Notre Dame Parish from June 30, 1981, to June 30, 1987, has been missing since he disappeared into a rural area in Maine more than a month ago.

Thibodeau, who is fondly remembered by Notre Dame parishioners, was believed to have been exhibiting dementia-like symptoms at the time of his disappearance, according to Caribou police. His family members said he was beginning to show signs of confusion.

Thibodeau disappeared July 15 from Reno’s Family Restaurant at 117 Sweden St. in Caribou. He was driving a gray 2013 Chevrolet Equinox with Maine license plate 638A.

Game wardens formally suspended their search for Thibodeau in July after he was traced to a heavily-wooded area where Washington, Penobscot and Hancock counties converge, perhaps around Lee, more than 100 miles from his home in Caribou. The last sign of him came from a cell phone signal on July 18.

The Down East Emergency Medicine Institute, an Orono-based nonprofit founded in 1991, continues to search for Thibodeau. DEEMI Operations Director Richard Bowie said his group of volunteers began searching after the wardens suspended their efforts.

The volunteers have conducted searches by vehicle and plane and have also used drones to search for Thibodeau, Bowie said. However, given the dense canopy of the trees, he said they haven’t found many leads. Once the foliage drops off in the fall or winter, he said teams may be able to find smaller logging roads Thibodeau may have gone down.

Thibodeau may have been last seen on the Depot Road in Lakeville, Bowie said, where a person biking reported seeing a car similar to the one Thibodeau was driving on July 17 or 18 before he was officially reported missing.

Bowie said it’s likely someone has seen Thibodeau’s car by this point and not known its driver was missing. But the fact the car is dark makes it hard to spot in the woods, he said, and anyone in the woods should wear bright-colored clothing so they can be more easily found if they become lost.

Volunteers continue to search a large area, he said, as it’s possible Thibodeau could have driven onto snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle trails.

Lynn Jones, Thibodeau’s niece, said she was the one who filed the missing person report after Thibodeau went missing. She praised DEEMI for continuing the search. While the wardens searched, Jones said authorities didn’t provide much information, which frustrated the family.

Thibodeau is a “great man” who is well liked by the communities he’s been a part of, Jones said. She’s heard stories about his generosity to families in Waterville, and people still remember him fondly. The family was shocked when he went missing. She said it was completely out of character as her uncle would always call her if he was going away. She said they are praying for his safe return and don’t know why he would have gone to that part of Maine.

“He’s just a great man,” Jones said.

According to information provided by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Thibodeau had a long history in the state of Maine. A native of Caribou, the retired priest graduated from St. Francis College in Biddeford and completed his clerical studies at the Grand Seminary in Montreal. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1958 in Portland, and his first assignment was as assistant pastor at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish. He was named assistant pastor at Notre Dame Parish in Springvale, where he remained until he was assigned as chaplain at Notre Dame Institute in Alfred and instructor at St. Ignatius High School in Sanford in 1966. He taught at St. Ignatius for 17 years.

In 1969, he was named spiritual director for St. Louis High School in Biddeford and remained chaplain to multiple local schools. In 1970, he was assigned to Rome for special studies. He returned in 1971 and served as assistant pastor at St. Mary Parish in Lewiston, Newman chaplain at both Bates College in Lewiston and Nasson College in Springvale, coordinator of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and temporary administrator for St. Agatha Parish in St. Agatha.

In 1975, he was named pastor of St. Mary Parish in Eagle Lake. In 1976 he was appointed coordinator of the Continuing Education of Clergy program. In 1981, Thibodeau was named pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Waterville, where he would serve until 1987 when he was assigned as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Bangor where he served from July 1, 1987, to June 30, 1994. During his time in Bangor, he oversaw the completion of the parish center. In 1994, he was named pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Gardiner. He retired from active ministry in 2001 and lived in Caribou.

Thibodeau served on the College of Consultors to the bishop, the Council of Priests and as a vicar forane, or a dean. He was active as a chaplain for the Knights of Columbus.

A silver alert, typically used for missing seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or some other form of mental disability, was put out for Thibodeau on July 21. Caribou police have said family members said Thibodeau was exhibiting signs of confusion.

The Portland Diocese issued a statement on Aug. 8 from Bishop Robert Deeley on Thibodeau, thanking public safety officials and regular citizens for helping look for the missing priest.

“The Maine Warden Service and Caribou Police Department have assured us that their investigations will remain open until he is found,” Deeley said in the statement. “This is a difficult time for Fr. Thibodeau’s family, friends, and the people who have been blessed to encounter him. The outpouring of prayers and concern since his disappearance illustrates how Fr. Thibodeau’s priestly service has planted and nurtured seeds of faith in those who have benefited from his spiritual leadership and compassion. The diocese continues to pray for Fr. Thibodeau and those who are working tirelessly to find him.”

Anyone with information about Thibodeau’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Caribou police at 493-3301.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis