October 22, 2018
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Bishop blesses historic church, high school converted to senior apartments

Shawn P. Sullivan | York County Coast Star
Shawn P. Sullivan | York County Coast Star
Bishop Robert P. Deeley blesses the St. Ignatius Apartments in Sanford on Wednesday.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley visited St. Ignatius Apartments on Wednesday, Nov. 29, and blessed the new housing complex just days before its first tenants were expected to make the place their new home.

Some tenants likely will move in as soon as this weekend, according to Michael Pease, the executive director of the Bureau of Housing for the Catholic Diocese of Portland. On Wednesday, Pease said the diocese was waiting for its occupancy permit from the city.

Bishop Deeley, local officials and Father Philip Tracy, the pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, all met in the complex’ community room for the official blessing. Mayor Tom Cote, City Manager Steven Buck, City Councilor John Tuttle, Planning Director Beth Della Valle and James Nimon, the executive director of the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, were among officials who attended. Several senior citizens — the apartments are affordable ones for those ages 55 and older — also attended.

During the blessing, Bishop Deeley read from the Gospel of Luke — specifically, the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector whom Jesus visited at his house. The bishop described homes as places where people renew themselves and where people define themselves in the eyes of Jesus. Bishop Deeley suggested that the story of Zacchaeus was fitting to Wednesday’s occasion.

“It reminds us of how important a home is to the dignity of a human being,” he said.

After the blessing, guests enjoyed refreshments and toured the complex, walking through the new, one-bedroom apartments, admiring the restored wood floors in the hallways, and pausing to look at old photographs that were framed on the walls. Historic shots of downtown Sanford and of long-ago classes at St. Ignatius High hang throughout the building.

Pine Brook Corporation, of Kittery, oversaw the project, which turned the former St. Ignatius Church and its high school on St. Ignatius Street into 66 units of affordable senior housing. The complex includes three floors of apartments in the original building and a new addition facing Winter Street. The church itself – the space where local Catholics attended Mass for decades – has been renovated into two floors, comprised of storage space on the ground level and a whole new floor above.

The diocese broke ground on the project in September of 2016.

St. Ignatius Church closed in October of 2010 as part of efforts to consolidate Sanford’s three Catholic parishes that began in 2007. The consolidation led to the establishment of the St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, which consisted of St. Ignatius Church, Notre Dame Parish on Payne Street in Springvale and Holy Family Church on North Avenue. Notre Dame and Holy Family churches remain active in the parish today.

Between 2008 and 2010, St. Ignatius Church closed during the winter so the parish could conserve on heating costs. In the spring of 2010, the parish council decided to close the church and put the property up for sale.

In 2015, Father Tracy told the Sanford News that a couple of retail businesses had shown interest in purchasing the property. However, those pursuits fell through, he said, because the interested parties wanted but could not secure access to Main Street from the property.

Someone also had shown interest in redeveloping the site for housing, Tracy said at the time, but that did not work out, either. However, the inquiry prompted the parish’s advisory boards to discuss how best to keep the historic building intact and to do something at the site that would be consistent with the church’s mission. The parish started pursuing the idea of converting the former church and school into housing.

“In the end, if we had a choice, we wanted it to reflect who we are as a community of faith,” Tracy said in 2015.

St. Ignatius Church was built in the 1920s to accommodate the increase of Franco-American families in the community who were Catholic and who migrated from Canada to work at Goodall’s textile mills here in Sanford. The parish had outgrown its original church, and members also wanted a Catholic school for their children. The church was dedicated in 1927.

The church occupied the basement of the three-level building. Elementary school children attended class on the first floor, and older students reported to the top floor to learn. In the 1940s, the top two levels officially became St. Ignatius High School, home of the community’s original Spartans. The high school closed in 1969, but parishioners continued attending church in the basement for decades.

On Wednesday, Cote called the former church a site of so many special memories and a place whose fate was uncertain when it closed seven years ago.

“There was a big question about its future,” Cote said at the blessing. “We’ve really created something special here. This is a special day for the city.”

Those who are interested in living at St. Ignatius Apartments are encouraged to call (207) 636-7341 or to send an email to info@stignatiusapartments.com.

In a recent news release, Bishop Deeley said St. Ignatius Apartments is in step with the diocese’s mission.

“St. Ignatius Apartments will allow the diocese to assist in meeting a crucial need in the Sanford area by offering a wonderful new home to residents,” he said. “It also offers a deserving tribute to the legacy of St. Ignatius Church, which served as a spiritual home for generations of area Catholics.”

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