CALAIS, Maine — During his tenure, he watched over the building of a new church and the creation of a cluster of churches under one priest, but now he is saying goodbye.
After more than a decade in Washington County, the Rev. Frank Morin, 60, is moving back home.
Morin, who leaves Jan. 30, has been transferred to the St. Michael parish cluster in the Augusta-Gardiner area. “I will be much closer to my whole family. They are in the Waterville area. I still have a lot of relatives in the Augusta area, too,” he said.
The Rev. James Plourde, a native of Caribou, who was administrator of the parishes of Bucksport, Stonington and Castine, will replace him. It is all part of a major shift in priests in the state in something like a domino effect in which priests change parishes and fill vacancies.
Morin has been in Washington County since 1998 first as a priest at St. Ann Catholic churches at Peter Dana Point near Princeton and Pleasant Point near Eastport on the Passamaquoddy reservations. At that time, he also served as backup priest for St. James Catholic Church in Baileyville.
“Eleven beautiful years,” Morin said in an interview last week of his time in Washington County. Then in 2005, there was a shift in priests as one moved to southern Maine and Morin became the pastor of the Peter Dana Point, Baileyville and Calais churches.
He had been living in the rectory in Calais for only two months and hadn’t finished unpacking when during the early morning hours of July 23, 2005, tragedy struck.
Huge thunderstorms had pounded the area the night before. Then a bolt of lightning lit up Calais Avenue and shook the ground. The lightning struck the church’s cross and ignited a fire.
The fire was fast, hot and devastating, claiming the church, the nearby rectory and most of their contents — except for a statue of the Virgin Mary. Afterward, people called the statue’s survival a miracle. The statue has a special place in the new church.
Within hours, ministers in the county had called to offer the Catholics the use of their churches. The first was the Rev. Dianne Graham at the nearby First Congregational Church UCC in Calais. Catholics moved their Mass next door while their church was being built.
Reflecting on the past decade, Morin said that his stay in Washington County was the longest he had ever been in one place. He has been a priest for more than 35 years.
“So as a result I have gotten to know well a lot more people and they have become familiar with me in a way that has been very, very positive,” he said.
When he arrived in Washington County there were six priests. Now there are two — Morin and the Rev. Eugene Gaffey who is based in Machias. To accommodate the shortage of priests, Morin was put in charge of a cluster he helped create — one priest for six churches that include not only the two on the reservations, along with Calais and Baileyville, but also churches in Eastport and Pembroke. Some of the churches have only seasonal Masses. “It has been a constant surprise of rearranging and rebuilding and restructuring,” Morin said of his tenure.
During his time Down East, Morin said, he valued his connection with the two Indian churches. At one point in his career he spent five years in Bolivia. “So I had a cross-cultural experience that was very, very strong and enriching,” he said.
On the reservation he is known as Pahtoliyas, which means “father” in Passamaquoddy.
“They desire to preserve their history and make it something that we cherish more and respect more, I understand that,” he said of his relationship with the Passamaquoddys.
Looking at the past, Morin said he would miss the area.
“It has been a wonderful experience, I am just sorry it has to end so suddenly,” he said.