New Auburn Maine history and the St. Louis Church bells

In celebrating the City of Auburn’s 150th anniversary, the community is preparing to include the beautiful St. Louis bells in a lovely city monument. The four historic Paccard Foundry bells, made in France in 1915, will be central to a municipal tower memorial to honor the community’s Franco-American heritage.

I want to thank Gerard Dennison of New Auburn, for updating the progress about the St. Louis bells and for his permission to highlight the speech he presented during the June 25, 2019 community fundraising kick-off.

Alan Manoian and former Auburn Mayor Labone

Alan Manoian (left) and former Auburn Mayor Labonte, with the St. Louis Bells when I visited their temporary storage location at Cote Corporation, in Auburn.

For me, this story began in 2014, when I contacted Alan Manoian, with the City of  Auburn, about his interest in preserving the St. Louis church bells. In fact, the bells were being removed from the church’s Gothic belfry while the building on 3rd Street was in the process of being closed.

Manoian was determined to save the beautiful bells, because, otherwise, they were on their way to a foundry, where they risked being forever lost.

Thankfully, Manoian was able to have the bells moved, temporarily, to property owned by The Cote Corporation, a crane company in Auburn.

Moreover, I was able to visit the location where the lovely bells were protected. While there, I took several photographs to show the inspiring religious art that was cast into the bells at the Paccard Foundry. (What remains a mystery to me is how the bells were safely transported across the Atlantic Ocean in 1916, during the First World War.)

St. Louis bells in New Auburn

St. Louis bells were cast in 1915, at the the Paccard Foundry in France. Each bell has unique symbols cast in the design.

Mr. Dennison delivered a wonderful speech at the June community kick-off. He described his family’s connection to St. Louis Church with the development of the Franco-American community, in New Auburn. His speech was a personal dedication to preserving the heritage represented in the bells. In addition to being a lifelong member of St. Louis Church until it closed, Dennison  was the Auburn City Councilor for Ward 5, from 1994-2000. He is the fourth generation of his maternal family who were members of St. Louis Church.

Dennison’s speech is noteworthy, because it is about history, heritage and the significant role the St. Louis parish played in the growth of the surrounding historic neighborhood.

Following are excerpted highlights from the narrative delivered in Dennison’s meaningful speech:

Eighty-five years ago, on June 25, 1934, my parents Alfred Dennison and Regina Routhier were married at St. Louis Church and the bells rang in celebration for their joyous occasion.

My mother’s family, pronounced Routhier, in French, lived on Tenth Street, where she was born in 1909 and lived with her three older sisters.

My Routheir great-grandparents, Francois and Marie (Gagnon) Routhier, and my grandparents, Francis and Anaise (Begin) Routhier, who I never met, built a two story home there in 1899, which is still occupied.

They were original members of St. Louis Church, when it was founded in 1902.  My paternal great great-grandmother, Adele (Dion) Dennison was born and baptized in St. Louis, but the church where she was born was in Quebec, in 1858. In the last years of her life, she lived as a widow with her daughter in an apartment house behind our (New Auburn) St. Louis Church, where her funeral Mass was held in 1938.

And this history, like most of our histories, are what this kick-off is all about. It’s about our history!

St. Louis Church bells

St. Louis Church bells were saved from being taken to a foundry and they are temporarily protected until they can be installed in an Auburn tower municipal monument.

History gives us this “look back in time” moment. The catalyst for the development of the New Auburn neighborhood was the Little Androscoggin Water Company, which built a dam and the Barker Mill, in the 1860s. This was a planned development with surrounding house lots on streets numbered 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th, where the workers, who were mostly French Canadian Catholics, could live close to the mill, where they worked. The residents petitioned for what became the new South Bridge, so they could get across to Lewiston more easily.

So, all of a sudden, around 1867, after the Civil War, there was this newly settled section of Auburn. This led a few people to call it “New Auburn”, and the name stuck.

After settling in New Auburn, the French Canadian Catholic families wanted a spiritual life and an education for their children, where they could attend school close to home. Therefore, in 1891, the St. Peter’s Catholic Church laid the foundation for a building to include a chapel, school and a small convent on Second Street, that opened in 1892.

Nuns from the French Order of the Congregation des Dames de Sion, arrived to teach the children. Another group of nuns from Canada, in 1904, named the Les Petites Franciscaines de Marie, replaced the French order.

On May 15, 1933, a devastating fire started in New Auburn, on Second Street. The fire destroyed 249 buildings and left 2,167 people homeless. Although the fire destroyed the school, the convent, the church and the bells were saved.  A new school was rebuilt in 1934; an addition was built in 1952, to accommodate the growing parish. In 1951, the St. Louis parish census recorded 1,097 families and 3,855 individuals, as members. The St. Louis school, with 500 students in the 1950’s and 1960’s, was the largest school in New Auburn.

History about the bells

The St. Louis bells were cast in 1915, at the Paccard Bell Foundry in Annecy, France. Each one is marked with Latin inscriptions detailing for whom they were cast and the date and location of the church.

Two of the bells were made to commemorate the lives of an Auburn businessman, and Ward 5 Alderman, Pierre Provost, and his family who lived on Fourth Street, where his house still stands.

A third bell commemorated New Auburn baker Phillipe DuPont.

A fourth bell was purchased by Reverend Henri Gory, who was the pastor of the church between 1914 and 1918.

He was the pastor who oversaw the building of the upper church when the cornerstone was laid in May of 2015. In October 1916, the bells were installed and blessed.

And, the bells rang when I was a student at the St. Louis School, from 1953-1962. I was also taught how to ring the bells. For six years, I range the bells, sometimes 7 days a week, always 15 minutes before Mass, funerals and weddings.

These St., Louis bells rang for our family and others for nearly 100 years, in times of joy and sadness. They rang for daily masses, funerals, and marriages like mine, with my wife Patricia. The bells rang in all types of weather. They rang during wars and peace.

The bells stopped ringing on the day of the final Mass on August 25th, 2013.

So, now it’s time to do our part and buy the bricks to build recognition in tribute to their important contribution to New Auburn’s history.

Information about The Tower and bells monument is available at www.Auburn150.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.