It’s rare to hear the entirety of George Frideric Handel’s magnificent oratorio “Messiah”, performed with an orchestra, at a local venue, like the beautiful and inspirational sanctuary at Brunswick’s Saint John the Baptist Church.
On Sunday November 5th, Maine’s Oratorio Chorale, led by Director Emily Isaacson, performed the entire oratorio with professional soloists, and they received a joyous standing ovation for the wonderful choral and orchestral program.
Moreover, it’s also interesting to point out how the Oratorio Chorale’s program was performed in the Franco-American sanctuary of the historic church.
In fact, the chorus, orchestra, soloists and the audience were surrounded by French language inscriptions evident throughout the statuary and in the brilliant stained glass religious windows.
“St. John’s”, as the church is affectionately called by its faithful, was established as a Roman Catholic parish in 1877, for a specific purpose. French-Canadian immigrants were rapidly moving into the Brunswick area from Canada, to help staff the growing industrial needs of the manufacturing mills, located on the Androscoggin River. They needed a church where the French Canadian Roman Catholics could worship, in their native French language.
A history about St. John the Baptist parish, written by Rev. Kenneth Thibodeau, of the Society of Mary, described how the sanctuary of the church is like “reading the face of a cathedral”, because it was built with the integrity, artistry and skills of Medieval craftsmen.
Prior to forming the St. John’s parish, Catholics in Brunswick were served by priests from Augusta and Whitefield. For a period of time, Mass and religious services were held in a hall at a local manufacturing mill. Later, a former Protestant church was bought in 1866, where Mass was said, up until 1883.
In 1877, the Rev. J.H. Noiseux was assigned to Brunswick as its first resident Catholic pastor and the previously used Protestant church was formally dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Therefore, the parish celebrates January 1877, as it’s birthday. Marist Priests, from the Society of Mary, were entrusted with the administration of the parish. In 1911, Father Theophile Remy, sm, was the first Marist pastor.
Fire destroyed the church on April 12, 1912, and subsequently, over a period of 15 years, the parishioners worked hard and sacrificed much to build the church located at 37 Pleasant Street in Brunswick. On February 27, 1927, the “new” Saint John the Baptist was solemnly blessed and continues to be known as the Franco-American church. Today, it is administered by the Diocese of Portland in the cluster of churches called “All Saints Parish”, in Mid Coast Maine. Father Thomas Murphy is the pastor.
When Father Thobodeau wrote about “reading” the church’s history, he explained how touring the sanctuary included meditating on the French inscriptions, with a church guide book, where the each of the inscriptions are described. Usually, the guide book is available free to visitors, and they are found in the church foyers, located at the front and side doors.
In the Oratorio Chorale’s “Messiah” performance led by Isaacson, the soloists were Elisabeth Marshall, soprano, Laura C. Atkinson, mezzo, Matthew Anerson, tenor and David Tinervia, bass. More information about the Oratorio Chorale is available at this website (oratoriochorale.org).
Certainly, “Messiah”, performed at St. John’s, was a wonderful venue for this inspirational performance. Hopefully, the audience and the community can request a welcomed “encore!”.