Attending the retirement party in early July for our friend Father Frank Morin, in Augusta, gave me the opportunity to think about the history of the church and the clergy who created the foundation for the Franco-American community and the “St. Augustine Church on Sand Hill”.
My husband and I were invited to attend the retirement party hosted by the parish for Father Morin, the departing pastor of St. Michael’s (cluster) parish in Augusta. We were impressed by the large crowd size attending the reception in the church hall of the St. Augustine Church. Indeed, it was difficult for us to find any place to park on July 1, to locate ourselves within walking distance of the church’s prominent steeple sanctuary, the local landmark, that’s easily visible on the Augusta skyline. In other words, hundreds of people came to the party, to congratulate “Father Frank” on the occasion of his retirement. The well wishers stood in line to wait their turn to enter the reception hall and in another line to greet Father Frank. Everyone was smiling.
We became friends with Father Frank because he has studied his father’s Franco-American genealogy and, therefore, he is a source of information about the history of the Morin family. There is a familial connection with my husband, who’s mother’s name was Rose Anna Morin L’Heureux. Father Frank Morin is a Franco-American, on his father’s side of the family.
Since we had the time to observe the crowd while waiting, I began to think about the clergy who were the founders of Augusta’s Roman Catholic parishes. My research turned up the interesting history about the “Black Robe”, Jesuit priest who founded the first Catholic worship services in the Augusta area, when the colonial territory was called, by the Native Americans, “Cushnoc” (or Coussinoc or Koussinoc), meaning “head of the tide”. Presumably the name referred to the Kennebec River and what the French explorers knew as the “Chaudière” meaning the Penobscot, and Kennebec rivers,
As a matter of fact, archeological excavations at the Cushnoc site of a colonial era trading post, located on the Kennebec River, shed light on the relationships between (and among) the English traders, the Native population, and the nearby French Acadian settlements.
But, it was the history about the first priest to serve the French settlers and traders in the Augusta area that described a remarkable man. He was an amazingly adventurous “Black Robe” Jesuit priest, named Father Gabriel Druillettes (1610 – B. France- 1681- D. Quebec). After reading about Father Druillettes’ life, I asked myself, if his experiences might be worthy of a historical documentary? His life was packed with missionary work to the extent that it’s difficult to imagine how he managed to fit it all into his life span, given the arduous terrain where he traveled, under difficult and challenging circumstances.
Druillettes entered the Jesuit religious order in France in July, 1629, and in 1643, he went to Canada. He must have had a gift for learning languages because he was able to speak to the Algonquin Native Americans. In August of 1646, Druillettes was given a mission to serve among the Abnaki, on the Kennebec River. He ascended the Chaudière, reached what is now Moosehead Lake by portage, and then entered the Kennebec. Continuing down the river he arrived at the English post of Coussinoc, now Augusta, where he met the agent, John Winslow, who became his life-long friend. In 1652, Father Druillettes wrote about the Abenaki village and burying-ground where they met every spring and fall “in sight of the English who lived at Koussinok”. [Cushnoc = Hallowell/Augusta] (Published in People of the Kennebec River.)
A history about the extraordinary work and writings of Father Druillettes is documented in the writings of the Jesuits, published in Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610-1791.
St. Augustine’s church history documents the parish’s Franco-American past described on the website: “La Paroisse de Saint Augustin” was founded in 1887 in response to the influx of French-Canadian workers and their families who came to Maine looking for a better life in a new place. The majority were from rural villages and towns in the provinces of Québec and New Brunswick, who were recruited to work at the Edwards Mill (which later became a division of Bates Mfg. Company after World War II). Work was plentiful and children as young as ten years old worked in the mills. Many of these immigrants found housing provided by and located near the mill. They came in great numbers and soon settle in the north end area of Augusta later known as Cushnoc Heights and more popularly known as Sand Hill.”
Father Morin has supported the Franco-American culture on Sand Hill and the French language is frequently included in the religious celebrations. Although he was born in New York City, he was raised in Winslow, ME. He attended secondary and university years in the Canadian New Brunswick province. He studied at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD, and in 1973, he was ordained a priest in Portland, ME.
Although he is now officially retired, Father Morin will continue to serve the people of Maine when he is needed to help. In the past, his work with immigrant populations has been praised and this will no doubt continue to be a focus of his service. Merci, et que Dieu vous bénisse.