BIDDEFORD – Annette Normand spent Tuesday methodically sorting and pricing items for a yard sale years in the making.

Around her, the dark wooden pews and center aisle of St. Mary’s Church were crowded with items to be sold: a stack of cafeteria trays, paintings of Pope John Paul II and the Virgin Mary, boxes of pots and pans.

Volunteers have spent weeks sorting items culled over the past three years from three closed churches, former rectories and a shuttered school, in preparation for the Good Shepherd Parish yard sale.

The sale – offering everything from crucifixes to air conditioners – will be held Friday and Saturday outside St. Mary’s Church in Biddeford and the Notre Dame de Lourdes rectory in Saco.

“It’s a lot of work, but I hope it’s worthwhile at the end,” said Normand, who has attended Catholic churches in Biddeford for 75 years.

The sale will end a long process of inventorying and sorting the items that were left when the parish consolidated into fewer buildings. And for some, it will be a step in the healing process and a chance to take something other than memories away from the churches in which they grew up.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced in August 2009 that it would close three churches in Biddeford and Saco because of dwindling numbers of parishioners and the cost of needed building repairs.

Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in Saco and St. Mary’s in Biddeford closed at the end of 2009. St. Andre closed in December 2010, after 100 years in Biddeford.

In the spring, Notre Dame de Lourdes School in Saco closed and merged with St. James School in Biddeford.

Good Shepherd Parish is far from the only parish in Maine to go through consolidations and emotional church closures. Since 2005, the diocese has closed 17 churches and, by consolidating administrative functions, reduced the number of parishes from 135 to 57.

Good Shepherd Parish’s three closed churches, its school and the St. Margaret Rectory in Old Orchard Beach are all for sale. Prices range from $599,000, for the massive brick St. Andre Church, to $419,000, for the Notre Dame de Lourdes Church and attached rectory in downtown Saco.

Parish officials say the buildings have generated little interest, something that’s not unexpected, given the economy and the nature of the properties.

Before Good Shepherd Parish can sell the buildings, it must empty them of items that accumulated for 100 years. After church leaders took what was needed for churches and buildings within the parish, they were left with items for which they had no use.

Religious items and pews will go to churches that need them, including the parish’s remaining five churches, and some valuable antique furniture from the rectories may be sold at auction.

Pews taken from the Bay View Convent before its demolition last year will go to a church that’s being built in the Jackman area.

Proceeds from the yard sale will go to the parish’s general fund.

“It was an enormous process,” David Gadbois, business coordinator for the parish, said of sifting through the buildings. “We hope this is a big step toward finality.”

While some people may still be emotional about the consolidation, Gadbois said others are excited to finally look through items they’ve been asking about for years.

“People want mementos from the church where their parents were married or their children were baptized,” Gadbois said.

Bob Labelle, buildings project coordinator for Good Shepherd Parish, said the sale is part of the healing process for the parish and a way to unite parishioners who grew up attending different churches.

“Now that we’ve merged, we have to merge the people,” he said.

The volunteer effort to sort items was led largely by Mike Bolduc, a longtime parishioner and grand knight of the Knights of Columbus in Biddeford.

Members of the Knights of Columbus and Daughters of Isabella are helping with the sale, as are Boy Scouts from Troop 308 in Biddeford. Many attended Catholic schools and churches in the area.

“We’re all working together on this,” Bolduc said. “It’s a huge parish effort, no doubt about that.”

Like Labelle, Stella Forcier of Biddeford sees the yard sale as part of the healing process. Her parents were married at St. Andre Church in 1917 and the family grew up attending Mass and school there. She later worked in St. Andre’s cafeteria.

Sorting through items from her former church has been somewhat emotional, she said. “We know it has to be done, even though it’s painful at times.”

Despite some lingering sadness, she said, it’s time for the parish to move forward as one.

“Now,” Forcier said, “it’s time to let go.”

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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