French history at Saint Patrick’s in Newcastle ME

NEWCASTLE, Me-  A beautiful Maine summer Sunday on July 9,  provided extra light to the spiritual ceremony, when the remarkable statue of Saint Patrick was blessed at Saint Patrick’s Church. His amazing image is a welcoming site to all worshipers and visitors at the historic Newcastle church.

Saint Patrick's Statue Newcastle Maine

St. Patrick’s statue was once visible at its original location where it was installed on the roof of the Saint Patrick’s Church, on Outer Congress Street in Portland.

People interested in learning about Maine’s early American history will enjoy visiting Newcastle’s Saint Patrick’s. It’s an enriching opportunity to see how the tiny town is a mirror of the nation, including a connection to Maine’s colonial French history.

Saint Patrick’s striking statue now stands watch over the church that was consecrated on July 17, 1808, built in his honor, and blessed by Bishop John Cheverus. Moreover, Newcastle is a perfect natural setting for the statue,  now installed on the grounds of the 217 year old church, constructed while Thomas Jefferson was President.  Since its consecration, the church has been in continuous use. Therefore, it’s the oldest active Catholic Church in New England.

Father Thomas Murphy

Father Thomas Murphy is pastor of All Saints Parish, which includes St. Patrick’s Church in Newcastle, Maine, where the statue was installed and blessed on July 9 2017

Father Thomas Murphy, pastor of All Saints Parish, which includes St. Patrick’s Church, celebrated Mass in the outdoor chapel, beneath majestic pine trees on church property, prior to blessing the statue. Following the Mass, he lead the parishioners who participated in a blessing of the inspiring statue. Although the statue was recently installed in Newcastle, the move from the original location in Portland took extraordinary effort.  In fact, the statue was once obvious to all who passed the St. Patrick’s Church located on Outer Congress Street, where it was visibly positioned on the roof.  But, when the church was dismantled in 2013, and the property was sold, the statue was protected and moved to Newcastle.

Moreover, French-American history is connected to the Saint Patrick’s Church.  In fact, the church was consecrated by the French Bishop John Cheverus (1768-1836),  the first Bishop of Boston, who served Maine’s Roman Catholics. Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus was born and died in France, but for 27 years he served Roman Catholics in America and particularly in New England.  His biography describes his extraordinary work in New England. He supported every form of missionary activity. He lived among the Indians, mastering their dialect; trudged on foot for long distances to minister to small groups of Catholics. He nursed the sick and buried the dead during two yellow-fever epidemics; collected funds to help build churches and was a business-man, adviser, peacemaker, servant and “doctor for his flock“. He served Roman Catholics in Maine, when it was then known as the “district of Maine”, part of Massachusetts.

Leaders of the St. Patrick History Project and Caroline Watson provided details about the challenges involved in moving the large statue to Newcastle. “There is a story behind this incredible gift,” said the church historian.  After the church arrived in Newcastle, it needed a suitable place to be installed, a site where it could stand alone without the support of being attached to a building.

Church leaders wanted to find a perfect place with extreme visibility, but would also be significantly stable and secure.

In the fall of 2016, George Hervochon (Hervochon Construction) took charge, along with the expertise of Dennis Anderson, and his crew, to lead the process.  A huge hole was excavated where footing was established to stabilize the earth and prevent the heavy statue from sinking. Fortunately, the digging hit ledge which provided further security.  A back hoe was used to insert a slab into the hole. Cables were used to keep the slab perfectly straight. Concrete was poured into the hole, creating a strong foundation.  Voila! Saint Patrick is certainly beautifully situated and a lasting tribute to the dedication of the parishioners who made the move possible..

Thanks are extended from The St. Patrick History Project to those who made the blessing of Saint Patrick in Newcastle a reality. They are George and Kathy Hervochon, Dennis Andereson and his staff, Noelle Brosch, Bill Greene and Mail it 4 U along with the pastoral support of Father Morse and Father Murphy.

St. Patrick’s Church is an elegant red brick sanctuary, an example of early Federal architecture, common in the 18th century. Two brothers, Patrick and Roger Hanly, who were  Irish immigrants who came to Maine via Newfoundland, were among the leaders who helped to build the church. When Bishop Cheverus was a missionary priest (later a Bishop and Archbishop), he often stayed with families who lived near the church and they were the among the people who donated the land where the building stands today.

It was really Matthew Cottrill & James Kavenagh who donated land & money to.the building of St. Patrick Church, explained Watson.

A colonial era cemetery is located adjacent to the church, where the remains of early families, the Hanlys, Cottrills and Kavanaghs, are interred.  Among those interred is Edward Kavanagh (1795-1844) the first Catholic Governor of Maine, and members of the Madigan family, who donated their home to the parish for use as a rectory, in the early 20th century.  Church historians describe the old cemetery as a “small mirror of American history”, because it contains inscriptions reflecting the American Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I, and II and the Korean War. “The cemetery expresses the continuity of our indigenous little Catholic Community.”

More information about Saint Patrick’s Church, its history and the stunning statue are available by contacting Caroline Watson at the history project email: cgwat.cw@gmail.com.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.