March is Francophone month!

Francophones of the world!

In the month of March, les Francophones du monde celebrate “Le Mois de la Francophonie“. One program among several scheduled in Maine is a presentation about the history of the Saints Peter and Paul Basilica, in Lewiston.

Known for the brilliant stained glass windows, this image of Jesus carrying the cross is particularly appropriate for the Lenten liturgical season.

Stained glass in Sts Peter and Paul in Lewiston

Stained glass window depicting Jesus carrying the cross to the Crucifixion.

In other words, all people who share French heritage are welcome to join in the festivities and programs during the Month of the Francophones, regardless of where they live. All public program and celebrations are inclusive of the communities where they are located. Bienvenu tous! (Welcome all!)

In Maine, one program among several  that are planned is a lecture presentation about the history of the Saints Peter and Paul Basilica, in Lewiston.

Saints Peter and Paul anniversary book cover

Saints Peter and Paul “A Rich Past ~ A Challenging Future” began in 1870, in Lewiston, when the church was organized to serve French-Canadians and Franco-American parishioners.

A history of the Paroisse Saint Pierre et Saint Paul in Lewiston was published in “A Rich Past – A Challenging Future“, a 2004 publication, commemorating the designation of the church as a minor basilica.

At the turn of the 20th century, the brick structure Saint Peter and Paul Church in Lewiston was bursting at the seams with over 10,000 parishioners, most of them were French-Canadian immigrants and Franco-Americans.

Therefore, in 1902, the pastor, Father Pierre Hevey, established another church, the St. Louis parish, for 415 Auburn families, to help serve more parishioners.

Encouraged by the Diocese, Father Mothon OP, in 1904, hired the Belgian architect, Noel Coumont of Lewiston, to draw up plans for a Neo-Gothic church to be constructed of Maine granite. The new church was to be built in Lewiston.

In November 1904, the parish purchased two houses at the corner of Ash and Bartlett streets, in Lewiston. Rental payments were deposited in the building fund until the houses were demolished to make way for the larger church. A wooden shed with a capacity of 1,200 people was built nearby as a temporary sanctuary and a final Mass was celebrated in the old brick church on February 4, 1905, after which it was dismantled and torn down. Granite was hauled from Norridgewock, Maine and construction on the lower church began on February 22, 1906.

When the magnificent building was constructed, the estimated price tag was $250,000. Diocesan authorities were so impressed with the architectural design by Coumont, that he was named the Diocesan architect.

French-Canadian immigrants were the primary parishioners who built the Saints Peter and Paul Church.

As an independent group, the Franco-Americans saw the Parish as a means of preserving their heritage and language.

Shortly after breaking ground for the new Sts Peter and Paul Church, the Diocese appointed Father Antonin Dalliare, a Candian Dominican, as pastor.

It was another 30 years before the upper church was completed.

On Oct. 4, 2004, the late Pope John Paul II, granted the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, the title of minor basilica. Saints Peter and Paul Basilica in one of more than 50 other Catholic churches in the United States with the same designation.

An Umbraculum, placed on the right side of the sanctuary’s alter, at the shrine of St. Martin de Porres, is symbolic of this designation.


Umbraculum is the symbolic designation of a Roman Catholic basilica. (Placed at the shrine of Saint Martin de Porres in the Saints Peter and Paul Basilica.)

On March 28, 2018, a program about the history of the Sts Peter and Paul Basilica will be presented by Julie Anne Baumer, during an afternoon program at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC), on Westminster Street in Lewiston.  This program is free and open to the public.  Check the website for more information. Merci!

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.