I grew up in St. Patrick’s School on Congress Street in Portland. St. Pat’s was a Catholic school, run by the Diocese of Portland. I spent nine years there, kindergarten through eighth grade, in yellow blouses and green plaid skirts. It’s still strange for me to walk into a classroom without a crucifix hanging over the door.

St. Pat’s is condos now. I don’t know if they are luxury condos or not, and I guess any valve helps to ease the pressure of Portland’s housing shortage, but it was still sad to see the building become “The Landmark on Whitney,” although “St. Patrick’s” is still engraved in the stone over the main entrance. (And yes, I’m still peeved that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland managed to find nearly $600,000 to fight the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maine, but couldn’t afford to keep their school open.)

A few years after the school closed, St. Patrick’s Church was sold. The whole school used to walk the few blocks from the school to the church on the first Friday of every month for Mass, like a big flock of yellow and green and blue ducklings. We had our middle school dances in the church basement. I’ve never actually been a Catholic – my family is Episcopalian – so I never got to receive Communion there, but it felt like a warm, welcoming space anyway, even for a weird queer kid. The pews were a light blond wood, and the space just filled with light. There was also a stained-glass window of JFK and RFK, which I grew up thinking was a totally normal and regular feature of churches.

My family was worried when the church was sold – we thought it might be demolished to make room for a parking lot, which just seemed wrong. After all, it had been a house of God for a long time. Fortunately, the property was bought by the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, and the new building there is a community center. Now, it continues to serve as a gathering place for faith and community (they did move the stained-glass window), although hopefully no further generations will have to suffer through the awkward middle school dances where everyone wears too much body spray and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is played as the lights go up every. Single. Time.

Down the street from St. Patrick’s was Espo’s Trattoria, an old-fashioned Italian restaurant. My family used to get takeout from there on Fridays (or any other day that my parents were running late and didn’t feel like cooking). I still remember my dad dumping the pasta with seafood sauce into a pan on the stove and stretching it out with canned sauce and extra noodles, because it was so good. I liked the shrimp and the scallops. Dad liked the mussels (which I always made sure to pick out of my bowl). For years, we tricked my brother into eating calamari (which is squid) by telling him it was onion rings. And the night before we sent him off to basic training in the Navy, we had dinner at Espo’s. (He did not have calamari or onion rings.)

Like a lot of Mainers, I don’t like change. Which is unfortunate, because the one constant in life is change. And so it goes that Espo’s Trattoria is closing. And obviously I worried about it, because the building isn’t large enough to be a community center (or even very tiny condos). Thank goodness another Portland institution is moving into its building – Maria’s Ristorante.

And what of the old Maria’s building, in Bayside? It’s going to become an African restaurant, and you best believe I will be going for meals there. (The news release had me at “marinated chunks of char-grilled goat.” I love goat.) If I were a fiction writer, I don’t think I could come up with a better metaphor for Portland’s evolution into the future than an African restaurant (representing Maine’s current wave of immigration) opening up in place of an Italian restaurant (representing Maine’s previous wave of immigration).

I’m still not a big fan of change, especially when it is sudden or comes with the sense that remnants of my childhood are being washed away. My high school, Catherine McAuley, also closed, a few years after St. Pat’s, although at least part of the complex – the old, gold dome-topped former convent known as the Motherhouse – has been redeveloped into affordable senior housing (which is desperately needed). But shifts and changes and re-developments are a lot easier to handle when they result in homes being provided for people who need them. Or when they involve delicious food.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.