January 17, 2020
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These 5 facts show what’s going on with the Catholic Church in Maine

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
The Rev. Seamus Griesbach conducts Mass for the start of Lent and Ash Wednesday at St. John Catholic Church on Wednesday morning, Feb. 13, 2013 in Bangor.

The Bangor Daily News just wrapped up its fascinating five-part series on the current state of the Catholic Church in the state.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most interesting facts — but make sure you read the whole series.

More people are going to church
Just as the most recent census data showed Maine is growing — albeit at a snail’s pace — early parish enrollment numbers for 2015 are expected to show a small increase of 3,000 over 2014, a growth of 1.8 percent, according to church officials.

This reversal, however slight, seems significant given the challenges the church has in Maine and organized religion has in general.

Maine has roughly half as many diocesan priests as it did in 15 years ago
… The number of diocesan priests in Maine fell from 221 in 1970 to 117 in 2000, and stands at a mere 57 today. This crisis of numbers is serving to catalyze efforts to grow the church and also literally changing its face in Maine.

Maine will need to bring in more foreign-born priests
To serve its needs and to deal with the shortage of home-grown priests, the diocese in Maine will need to continue to rely on priests from abroad to minister to Catholics, according to Monsignor Andrew Dubois, moderator of the Curia for the diocese.

Surprisingly, the diocese says it doesn’t need many new priests, just 20 men to be ordained during the next 10 years to meet the state’s demand. That’s just two priests per year, but the church has averaged less than that over the past two decades.

Griesbach believes the priests and sisters are there, sitting in the pews, they just need support and guidance.

“I have a sense that we’re starting to move a little bit beyond ‘Generation Me.’ I believe a lot of young people are looking for ways to find meaning and they don’t want to just live for themselves,” Griesbach said. “They’re looking for ways to give their lives to something greater. If that’s the perspective, I think [service to the church] is very appealing.”

The new pope is bringing some worshippers back
[Marianne] Lynch said Pope Francis’ approach has changed her attitude, by emphasizing environmental and conservation causes, being more open about homosexuality, and eschewing trappings of the office such as the papal estate and custom-made vehicles.

For her and others, the church feels again like a welcoming place.

“It feels right,” she said of going back to the Catholic Church. “Now that the message comports with what my heart was telling me was the right thing. It feels like more of my home.”

The church is growing thanks to hard business decisions and more immigrants
Since 2000, the number of foreign-born Catholics in the U.S. has risen from 10.9 million to 15.3 million in 2014, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Sacred Heart/St. Dominic, in Portland’s West End, is one of the few congregations in Maine that reflects this trend of change in America’s Catholic Church. It’s perhaps Maine’s most diverse congregation, and most engaged, as its congregants successfully led a fundraising effort to restore the church’s crumbling tower, staving off possible closure.

“This parish has everything except money,” said Gary MacDonald, 61, who attends Sacred Heart. “Money’s easier to solve than the other things. Community’s hard to find. Faith is hard to find. That sort of spirit of solidarity is hard to find. There are people here who have come from horrible circumstances in Africa and South America. We’re in one of the poorest parts of the city and despite all those challenges, there’s something extraordinary here that keeps growing and growing.”

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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