Although I’m acting like a self appointed committee of one on this subject, I am proud to proclaim the beautiful sanctuary of St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Brunswick to be a Franco-American Heritage Site. In fact, the beauty of the church is both spiritual and historical. This connection becomes evident during the Holy Week liturgies, when Christians from all denominations fill the magnificent sanctuary to pray the 14 “Stations of the Cross”, on Good Friday, three days before Easter Sunday.
In fact, Stations de la Croix, positioned on the St. John the Baptist sanctuary walls, are three dimension iconic New Testament scenes, depicting of the death of Jesus. Each scene is engraved with French descriptions. The meditation about each of the 14 episodes that describe how Jesus carried the cross to his Crucifixion and death, are a Good Friday meditation for the world’s Christians.
In Brunswick, the meditations are attended by Christians from many denominations.
Heritage sites are landmarks which have been officially recognized to represent a particularly significant educational, cultural or scientific location. It seems to me, St. John the Baptist, by its special history, represents at least two of the three requirements.
A pamphlet about St. John the Baptist Church describes the many prayer readings embedded inside the sanctuary, on the windows as well as reports the parish history
Historic recognition is given to the Ursuline Sisters, who arrived in the Brunswick area in 1915, to teach the French-Canadian children of local mill workers about their Catholic faith. They taught in the St. John the Baptist parochial school, located on church owned property.
Prior to 1840, the Roman Catholics of Brunswick were served by priests from Augusta and Whitefield. In 1855, Brunswick became a mission of the City of Bath parish. In the absence of a church, the Roman Catholics celebrated Mass in the Cabot Mill, located on the Androscoggin River. Eventually, in 1866, a local Protestant church was purchased, where Mass was celebrated until 1883. It was at this time when the Brunswick area became a French speaking parish to serve the growing influx of French-Canadians, who arrived to accept work in the local mills. St. John the Baptist Parish was dedicated on January 1, 1886, by Bishop James Augustine Healy, of Portland.
Unfortunately, on April 12, 1912, the church was destroyed by a fire. Subsequently, over the next 15 years, the parishioners of St. John’s worked hard and sacrificed much to build the present church. On Sunday, February 27, 1927, the present church of St. John the Baptist was solemnly blessed by Bishop John G. Murray, of Portland. A restoration of the Stations of the Cross was completed in 1995, by Patty Konecny.
All the sanctuary meditations, including the brilliant stained glass windows, are inscribed in French.
Even in the absence of having any official authority to declare St. John the Baptist Church a Franco-American Heritage Site, I hereby do so, on my own volition.
There is certainly an educational component to the Franco-American history displayed in the sanctuary. Use of the French language is evidence of the population the church was built to serve and the cultural connection to the Brunswick community continues at the annual interfaith “Lessons and Carols”, during Advent and the Stations of the Cross meditations, on Good Friday.
Information about the St. John the Baptist Church is available on the website for All Saints Parish and at the highlighted link.