St. Patrick Church in Newcastle. Contributed photo

Tours of the historic St. Patrick Church and its museum in Newcastle will be offered from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 4. The events precede Mass at 11 a.m.

Visitors can explore artifacts that reflect the history of the faith in Maine as well as the tradition of St. Patrick Church, dedicated in 1808 and the oldest active Catholic church in New England. The church is home to artifacts itself like the altar of Bishop Cheverus and a bell cast by Paul Revere and Sons.

“All Saints Parish, of which St. Patrick Church is a part, met with a restoration firm to get an estimate of costs for the restoration needs of the church,” said the Rev. Thomas Murphy, pastor of All Saints Parish. “The cost is close to $324,000, which is our project goal.”

The firm, Kronenberger and Sons Restoration in Middletown, Connecticut, found that the church is showing signs of deterioration, especially in the roof and the brickwork.

“The account balance for this restoration is over $180,000,” said Fr. Murphy. “In addition to this parish account, there is a privately owned lay trust that has also committed to giving us an additional $112,000 toward the restorations when the project is underway.”

The project plan includes a new roof, detailed brickwork, cornice and window trim repair and additional exterior renovations.

“For our contract to be signed, we must have enough money to start and finish,” said Fr. Murphy. “That’s why we are asking for people who value and appreciate the incredible history of this church to assist in this effort to raise the final $30,000.”

All Saints Parish is offering three different ways to contribute to the cause:

  • place your donation in an envelope marked “St. Patrick’s Old Church Fund” and drop it in the offertory baskets at any parish Mass (St. Charles Borromeo Church, Brunswick; St. John the Baptist Church, Brunswick; St. Mary Church, Bath; Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Boothbay Harbor; St. Ambrose Church, Richmond; St. Patrick Church, Newcastle; St. Katharine Drexel Church, Harpswell);
  • mail your donation (“St. Patrick Old Church Fund” in the memo line of the check) to All Saints Parish, 144 Lincoln Street, Bath, ME 04530; or
  • donate online at allsaintsbrunswick.weshareonline.org.

Any funds over goal will be used to enhance the church further.

“For instance, if we were to secure an additional $29,000, we would be able to purchase custom storm windows to protect the stained glass church windows,” said Fr. Murphy. “We are so grateful for anything that people can offer.”

St. Patrick Church was designed by Irish architect Nicolas Codd and built on land donated by James Kavanagh and Matthew Cottrill, who had emigrated from County Wexford, Ireland, to Boston. The Kavanaghs, Cottrills, and others arrived in Newcastle in the 1790s.

“This church was the dream of two natives of Ireland who came to America to seek their fortune and find it they evidently did. But financial success was not enough for these men, James Kavanaugh and Matthew Cottrill,” said Bishop Robert Deeley. “They wanted their faith and the worship that was part of their faith to be a part of their community. The major part of the expense of building this church and maintaining this community in its early years relied on their financial and personal commitment. Their perseverance built this church. Their faith maintained a Catholic community.”

Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, who had celebrated Masses in the area for many years, dedicated St. Patrick Church on July 17, 1808, having been appointed the first Bishop of Boston in April of that year.

“I performed the ceremony on the Sunday the 17th of this month,” Bishop Cheverus wrote in a letter shortly after the consecration. “The church is called St. Patrick’s…the name seemed to gratify our friends here. I like it myself because it proclaimed that our church here is the work of Irish piety.”

The altar used during the dedication Mass is still located in the church. A colonial era cemetery is located adjacent to the church, where the remains of early families like the Cottrills and Kavanaghs are interred.

In 1818, Cottrill donated a Paul Revere & Sons bell to the church, inscribed “The gift of Matthew Cottrill to St. Patrick’s Church, Newcastle, 1818.” From among the 400 bells cast by Paul Revere & Sons from 1792-1828, St. Patrick’s is one of 93 still in existence. A brick bell tower with a hip roof was added to the church in 1866. In the 1890s, the present spire topped with a wooden cross was added to the brick tower, the original clear windows were upgraded with stained glass windows, the benches were replaced with pews, and the ceiling and walls of the church were elaborately decorated. The first altar, built of wood pine logs, was later replaced with a granite altar.

In the early 1970s, the diocesan liturgical commission decided that St. Patrick Church should be restored, where possible, to its original simplicity. The frescoes, which had been added in the late 1800s, were eliminated and the walls repainted in the original pale tone. The sanctuary railing was restored and some of the statues removed. The 1896 stained glass windows donated by early parishioners and the pews were left in place. With the completion of the restoration, St. Patrick Church was accepted into the National Historic Registry as a building with historic significance.

For more information about the St. Patrick Project or the church itself, call (207) 563-3240.

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