The new St. John the Baptist History Museum is scheduled to open in Brunswick on Sunday, July 25 after the 11 a.m. Mass.

According to church Historian Robert Bouchard, the idea for the expanded museum, located in the chapel of the former Ursuline Convent/Parish Center next to the community center, has been close to 20 years in the making.

Plans began forming, Bouchard said, in 2002 after the church’s 125th anniversary, when the church’s artifacts and photos were stored in a smaller museum and could not be easily viewed. The church was originally established in 1877.

St. John the Baptist Church Historian Robert Bouchard holding the remnants of a melted bell recovered from a fire in 1912 that destroyed the church. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Examples of artifacts at the new museum include remnants of a melted bell recovered from the fire in 1912 that destroyed the church, and a pastor’s desk, which Bouchard estimates is one of the oldest pieces.

“I’m hoping to enlighten the younger people,” Bouchard said. “A lot of people nowadays have never seen any of this stuff so that is our goal. And when we start to get some of the older people coming in, I love to hear their stories.  They all have stories of some sort, memories that they have.”

The museum is made up of three rooms, as well as a research area, and also includes a large collection of photographs, chalices, old clothing and other exhibits. Bouchard estimated that several hundred people have donated items for the collection, with more always coming in.

“History is very important to me,” Bouchard said. “People need to know what life was like back then.”

According to Bouchard, over the past 20 years, he worked alongside Gerry Menard, who took on the role of managing the church’s artifacts. Menard passed away in August of 2020.

“Even if he’s gone, he’s been guiding me along. This is the way I feel,” Bouchard said, noting that the museum is a cumulation of their work, and that the space is dedicated to Menard.

“One of the things that I feel is that coming to church, or being involved, this becomes like your second family,” Bouchard said. “When somebody passes away, you really feel as though you’ve lost a member of your family.”

Upon opening on Sunday, the museum will be blessed by Fr. Thomas Murphy. The museum is scheduled to be open on the second and fourth Sunday after the 11 a.m. Mass, Wednesday afternoon from 12-3 p.m. and by appointment. Bouchard said that he expects the museum to open May through October.

An image in the museum’s collection that depicts the St. John’s School Harmonica Band in 1939. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

St. John the Baptist Church in Brunswick is part of a larger cluster of seven different Roman Catholic churches in Midcoast Maine known as All Saints Parish. According to All Saints Parish Business Coordinator Charleen Foley, St. Patrick’s Church in Newcastle, Maine is the only other church in the cluster with a museum.

“There is so much historical value in Brunswick that if we can be a part of that as well, that would be great,” Foley said. Foley added that All Saints Parish frequently gets calls from people looking for information about family connections to the church, and she believes the museum will provide a resource to search archives for personal reasons.

There are 6,233 members listed for the All Saints Parish, and 1,685 members listed for St. John the Baptist Church.

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