Monday September 30, 2013 | 09:12 AM

 “…61 percent of those interviewed declared themselves Roman Catholic…” (Survey)

Brilliant fall colors are evident in the Roman Catholic St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Brunswick. The neatly maintained cemetery grounds are groomed in respectful reverence to the head stones carved with Franco-American names like Boucher, Marquis, Caron, Fournier, Bouchard, Ouellette and many others who share French ancestry. Many of the stones are carved with dates over 100 years old.

These dearly departed are among the thousands of graves of Brunswick’s Franco-Americans who built the St. John the Baptist parish and parochial school. Some stones are carved in French with loving words like “prez pour elle” (pray for her). 

Franco-American religious faith and traditions came to Maine with the first French colonists, who landed in 1604 on St. CroixIsland of the coast of Calais.

Even the name St. Croix, meaning Holy Cross, emphasized the importance of faith in the lives of the settlers.

Crucifix in St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Brunswick Maine 2013

St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Brunswick Maine 

“La foi, la langue, la culture” resonates with Franco-Americans. It means their faith and language are inbred cultural characteristics.

The Catholic Church in the Land of the Holy Cross by V. A. Lapamarda sj

The Land of the Holy Cross: Franco-Americans in the Portland Diocese”, a history by Vincent A, Lapamarda, s.j., describes the growth of Maine’s Catholicism and how the Diocese benefited from French-Canadian immigrants who arrived from Canada during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thousands of French Canadians were recruited, or moved to Maine to work in textile, paper, and shoe industries in Waterville, Lewiston, Biddeford, Sanford, Brunswick, Rumford, Westbrook and other industrial locations. They quickly built Catholic parish churches and schools and as their numbers grew.

 Franco-Americans remain faithful to the Roman Catholic religion. A survey of Maine’s Franco-Americans was published by the University of Maine in 2013, and the data was analyzed by political science researcher Dr. Christian Potholm of Harpswell.  “Occasional Papers: Contemporary Attitudes of Maine’s Franco-Americans”, reports 61 percent of those interviewed declared themselves Roman Catholic. Of those, 55 percent said they believe and/or practice Church doctrine. 

Obviously, Maine’s Catholic history and sustainability are intrinsically tied to the faithfulness of the Franco-Americans parishioners.

During the past year, the Diocese of Portland has continued a call for prayers at Sunday Masses, to provide guidance in the search for a Bishop. This Diocesan leadership position has been in transition since Bishop Richard Malone was appointed in August of 2012, to lead the Diocese of Buffalo New York. Since his departure, the position of Bishop of the Diocese of Portland has been vacant.

Maybe, Maine’s next bishop should be a Franco-American.

Potholm says appointing a Franco-American bishop would be welcome.  "While the Franco American community in Maine has made tremendous strides in terms of political and educational accomplishments over the last decades, there seems to be a glass ceiling in terms of religion. Despite their long traditional support of the Roman Catholic faith, they have never had a Franco American as Bishop of Maine. Perhaps, that is because Maine falls under the control of Boston, not Quebec but it remains a most irritating glass ceiling for many."

In the past, two Franco-Americans have served as Auxiliary bishops. The late Bishop Amedee Proulx was consecrated on November 12, 1974, as the first Franco-American and youngest Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Portland.  Bishop Michael Cote of Springvale was an Auxiliary in Portland for a few years before he became the Bishop of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut.

Portland’s first Bishop was David William Bacon (1815-74), of BrooklynNY

Perhaps, after the serene St. John the Baptist cemetery grounds are covered with dried leaves and snow, the Diocese of Portland will finally announce the name of a new Bishop. Certainly, Franco-Americans will be waiting to hear if the new Bishop’s name matches with any of the thousands of faithful honored in the Franco-American cemeteries and parish registries throughout Maine.

A YouTube tour to the beautiful St. John the BaptistChurch with interior views:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACWgOEyd1Vg

Contemporary Attitudes of Maine’s Franco-Americans link to report:

http://umaine.edu/francoamerican/resources/occasional-papers/

A history of St. John the BaptistChurch is at this link:

http://www.allsaintsmaine.com/st-john-baptist-history/

An abstract of  “The Catholic Church in the Land of the Holy Cross: A History of the Diocese of Portland, Maine”, by Vincent A. Lapamarda is at this link:

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cat/summary/v091/91.1campbell.html

 

             

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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