The Rev. Seamus Griesbach, pastor of the Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, blesses the tugboat Roderick McAllister with holy water during the Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday at the Maine State Pier in Portland. About 100 people attended the ceremony at the pier and about 50 boats were blessed. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Under bright and breezy skies Sunday afternoon, several altar servers carried a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, carefully balanced upright on a white wooden litter, to the end of the Maine State Pier.

They set the 4-foot-tall likeness of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, protector of all seafarers, on a pillar overlooking Portland Harbor, one of the busiest commercial and recreational ports in New England.

Then the priests of Portland’s Roman Catholic parishes presided over the first Blessing of the Fleet to be held in Maine’s largest city in more than a decade.

“Bless these boats, their equipment and all who use them,” said the Rev. Seamus Griesbach, pastor of the Portland Peninsula & Island Parishes. “Protect them from the perils of the deep and fill their nets.”

Altar servers from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland hold a litter carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary during the Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday at the Maine State Pier in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

About 100 people attended the hourlong ceremony launching the summer boating season – an event that hasn’t happened in Portland since 2007 or 2008, organizers said. The last blessing before that was held in the late 1990s.

About 50 boats of all sizes and types participated Sunday afternoon, including a fireboat, a couple of tugboats and a wide variety of fishing and recreational boats. Dating back centuries in Mediterranean fishing villages, similar blessings are held annually in Boothbay Harbor, Gloucester, Massachusetts, and other maritime communities around the globe, Griesbach said.


The Portland event blossomed this year after members of Saint Christopher Parish on Peaks Island started planning to hold a blessing of the fleet as part of parish’s 100th anniversary year activities, said organizer Chris Hoppin.

Leaders of Portland’s parishes, including the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, home parish of Bishop Robert Deeley and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, decided to hold the ceremony on the mainland and include the wider community.

Danielle Ogden of Pownal attended with her daughters, Rosemary, 4, and Maeve, 14 months.

“My husband and I, we always try to witness our faith,” said Ogden, whose husband was working Sunday afternoon. “Being Catholic is part of our daily family culture. It’s not just something we do on Sunday morning. It’s important to be here because we live in a maritime community, and Rosemary loves the boats.”

Dignitaries included Coast Guard Capt. Amy Florentino, Northern New England Sector commander, who is stationed at South Portland. Florentino, who is Catholic, attended for both professional and personal reasons with her 9-year-old daughter, Claire.

“It’s fun to watch and participate in maritime events like this, and it’s nice to see the support in the community,” she said. “Search and rescue is one of our biggest missions and commercial fishing is still one of the most dangerous industries. It’s great to begin the season with a reminder of safety and protection at sea.”


Joe Whalen of Peaks Island was one of several Peaks boat captains who joined the parade of watercraft that flowed past the pier. He was at the helm of his 35-foot Albin sport fishing boat, which carried several passengers and was decorated with flags for the occasion.

“I think it’s great,” Phalen said as his boat circled the harbor. “Everybody on Peaks wanted to do it.”

The Rev. Seamus Griesbach and altar servers Adeline Maurais and Adrian Jenkins await the next boat during the Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday at the Maine State Pier in Portland. About 50 boats were blessed. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

After Father Griesbach delivered an overall blessing, including several prayers, he and other priests sprinkled holy water on boats that pulled up to the pier. Contained in a copper kettle, the water was gathered from the harbor by altar servers and blessed by Griesbach just before the ceremony.

Priests used evergreen boughs to sprinkle the holy water. Griesbach used a small straw whisk broom.

“I got some good range with this,” Griesbach said after the ceremony. “It was super fun. Living our faith is supposed to make our lives more enjoyable.”

It also was an opportunity to build community and show support for those who make a living on the water.

“Life at sea is not easy,” Griesbach said. “They go out year-round in all kinds of weather. It’s tough. It’s dangerous. It’s important they know they’re not alone. Faith is a yes to love. Events like this help us forge bonds of love and affection across the community.”

Griesbach said he hopes the Blessing of the Fleet becomes a yearly tradition in Portland, possibly including clergy from other denominations and faiths.

“This year was kind of a trial balloon,” he said. “As we said (in promoting this event), all boats are welcome, and those were not all Catholic boats.”

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