After one month and over 5,000 auto miles up and down the East Coast all the way to southern Nova Scotia, you would think that I would have a storehouse of impressions about the life of the local Catholic Church in many different locations. The sad truth is that my itinerary, for the most part, took me to famous churches, cathedrals and shrines, actually, and it is hard to sort out the locals from the tourists and the services available to visitors. We attended three Masses in the United States—the Orchard Park, New York and Portsmouth, New Hampshire Masses were nuptial Masses. The third was a Sunday evening Mass at St. Teresa’s in Brewer, Maine, just across the Penobscot River from Bangor.
I have linked here the June 26 Sunday bulletin given us at St. Teresa’s, because its information is quite enlightening. St. Teresa’s is one of six churches (!) networked together around Bangor, each church having its own patronal saint but corporately and collectively known at the Parish of St. Paul the Apostle, as indicated on the front page of the bulletin. Thus the folks in Brewer, though worshipping at St. Teresa’s or St. Mary’s up river, are canonically members of St. Paul’s, and all six churches use the same bulletin. I would have liked to see some of the others, but we opted instead for supper down the road from the church at a hole-in-the-wall fish house hanging perilously high over the river, but worth the risk for the fried haddock special.
On this particular weekend all of the local churches were bidding farewell to their pastor of the St. Paul consortium, Father Timothy Nadeau, who was being transferred to Lewiston, Maine. I am not certain if this is exactly a promotion or not, having never seen Lewiston. However, Lewiston, Maine, has a place in the annals of sports history. When the new boxing champion Cassius Clay and his vanquished contender Sonny Liston scheduled a rematch on May 25, 1965, no state would issue a license for the fight except Maine (Liston had a number of legal problems, as I recall.) In a 4,000 seat school gym that was only half sold-out for the fight, Clay knocked out Liston with a much disputed phantom punch and of course the rest, as they say, is history. We can only hope that Father Nadeau has a kinder reception in Lewiston than Sonny Liston’s.
Many parishes over the past generation or more have moved into consortium or networking arrangements, originally for staffing and financial purposes, but I suspect that more recently bishops are more sensitive about maintaining local faith communities and the enthusiasm they engender. St. Teresa’s seemed like a spirited little parish, with many confessions before Mass and an excellent sermon. The parishioners were quite friendly toward us and we left with hope that the parish might continue its presence on the local parochial landscape.
Money has been called “the mother’s milk of politics” (but probably not by Bernie Sanders); it is an undeniable reality that fiscal realities impact the numbers, availably, and quality of Catholic life and worship. There is some mild, tempered optimism about Maine’s economic future, and I have linked a 2015 statewide analysis here. The state took an extraordinarily long time to recover, albeit partly, from the great recession. The lumber industry has been decimated. Maine, as a state, has lost population or held even between 2010 and 2015. This is never good, as it is often symptomatic of young people leaving the area or state for better opportunities elsewhere. There is also a tendency in Maine of relocation to urban centers such as Bangor, Portland, and Augusta.
Such factors certainly impact the Catholic life of Bangor. In reviewing the June 26 bulletin, the total collection of the six parish units amounted to just short of $23,000. This strikes me as a “maintenance budget” in that the insurance gets paid and the facilities cared for. I do note in the bulletin that the Catholic Charities Campaign for the Diocese of Portland, which includes Bangor, is currently in its sixth week; the six churches of St. Paul Parish stand at 67% of their total goal of about $225,000. I found a more detailed description of campaign results at the Diocese of Portland’s website, an informative breakdown if you’ve never seen one. I commend the Portland Diocese on its transparency; my own diocese does not make such information so easily accessible, if at all.
Since we visited a month ago, a new pastor has been appointed, and the two parochial vicars or assistant pastors remain unchanged. There is also a full time priest who serves as chaplain to the local hospitals. In numbers, this means that four priests serve the third largest city in the state, though the population of the entire City of Bangor is only 33,000. The priests rotate through a rather detailed weekend Mass schedule. Not all parishes offer all customary services; four of the six churches have announced confession times, for example.
I have neglected to mention that Bangor does have a Catholic school. Not surprisingly, the enterprise is spread over three church campuses throughout Bangor. The principal of the school, in a farewell bulletin note to the departing Father Nadeau, observes that “the level of support that All Saints Catholic School [the corporate school name] receives from our parish is unmatched in the diocese. Father Nadeau has supported our school spiritually as well as financially. A great example of this was his support for the purchase of new laptops for our middle school.” Schools are generally a rallying point of parishes, and hopefully the pastor’s successor will continue to maintain support for the All Saints. The bulletin notes four persons with the title of “faith formation coordinator” and two with special designations for junior and senior high Catholic youth. The practical management of religious education must be a logistical nightmare; I was sorry I did not have a chance to talk to a staff member about that.
I know that I have just scratched the surface in terms of understanding the life of the Bangor Catholic Community, but I find myself fascinated by even the general scope of the operations of Catholic ministry in any locale. No two Catholic communities are precisely alike—and if you look closely enough, you can always take away at least a glimmer of hope for your own ministry.