MADAWASKA, Maine — Though he answered his calling late in life, Father James Albert has a religious career spanning more than two decades to reflect on as he retires effective Feb. 1.
The pastor of Notre Dame du Mont Carmel Parish in Madawaska and Grand Isle, Albert, 70, also served as the administrator of St. Peter Chanel in Van Buren and Hamlin.
“My father died in 1969, and at the time I’d been teaching about five years,” Albert said. “It really made me think about where I was coming from and where I wanted to go.”
The chair of the language department at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts where he taught French and English as a second language, Albert said it took another 10 years before he gave the religious calling serious thought.
“I always felt I had a calling to religious life,” he said. “But I was too busy with teaching and have always been something of a workaholic.”
In 1979 Albert took an indefinite leave of absence from Worcester Academy — a status he retains to this day with the school — to immerse himself in a more religious life.
After a series of retreats in Pennsylvania and Virginia with monastic orders, Albert said he knew he’d been called to the life of a Roman Catholic priest, and his heart led him back to his home state.
“I’d been out of Maine for 28 years, and all that time my heart stayed in Maine,” he said. “I felt my knowledge of French would help, and it led me to apply with the Diocese of Portland.”
After studying with a French bilingual program in Ottawa, Albert was ordained when he was 46 years old.
About that time, the priest at St. Luce Parish in Frenchville became ill, and the newly ordained Albert was sent to take his place.
Soon after, popular St. John Valley priest Father Leopold Nicknair took Albert under his wing, even tapping him as his assistant when Nicknair was named the pastor of St. Peter and St. Paul in Lewiston.
“That was a great start,” Albert said. “I didn’t have a lot of experience, but because of my age people thought I knew what was going on.”
Albert may be retiring, but he is by no means leaving his flock.
“The people of the St. John Valley are the most beautiful people in the world,” he said. “My roots are here, and I love these people.”
Over the years Albert has seen hundreds of the Valley faithful through sacraments including baptism, first Communion, marriage and last rites, and they continue to be a source of his faith.
“They say the priest is supposed to inspire the people,” he said. “But it is the people of the Valley — the parishioners, who inspire me.”
Over the years Albert served as pastor of churches in St. David, Eagle Lake and Wallagrass in addition to his current post.
Albert said he would continue to serve as a retired priest after taking a period of rest and renewal at a monastery with Trappist monks.
“For so long in my life I always felt I had that calling but felt I was not worthy,” Albert said. “But if you just depend on God’s guidance you can’t go wrong [and] it took me awhile to get into that frame of mind.”