An Old Town native who was a Catholic priest for more than 60 years died Sunday after a brief illness at the age of 87.
The Rev. Rudolph “Rudy” J. Leveille saw many changes in the Catholic church during his six decades of ministry, including a switch from Latin to English Masses and a dramatic decline in attendance at Mass every weekend.
He attributed the drop in attendance to the overall secularization of American society. “People have lost their sense of sin,” he told the Bangor Daily News in 2015 in a series on the state of the Catholic Church in Maine.
Leveille was ordained June 15, 1957, by Bishop Daniel J. Feeney at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. Leveille retired from active ministry in 1997 after a career during which he was assigned to parishes in Portland, Old Orchard Beach, Bucksport, Hallowell, Orono and Brewer. He continued to celebrate Masses at churches in Greater Bangor after his retirement.
Leveille celebrated Mass in Latin during his first seven years with his back to the people, as priests had done for centuries. In the mid-1960s, after Vatican II, Leveille celebrated Mass in English and faced worshippers.
“I thought it brought about much closer contact between the priest and the people,” he said.
It wasn’t until 1964 that Maine had a Catholic church — St. Patrick’s in Portland — that was built with an altar facing the people. Leveille was serving as a priest there at the time.
During a celebration of the 60th anniversary of his ordination, held at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor in 2017, Leveille told parishioners that they had ministered to him more than he had ministered to them.
Leveille was born to Rudolph J. and Isabel R. Leveille in 1931. He attended St. Joseph’s School in Old Town and graduated from John Bapst High School in 1949. Leveille attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, before attending seminaries in Montreal.
Leveille’s wake and funeral will take place at Holy Family Catholic Church, 429 Main St., in Old Town. The reception of the body and wake will be at 3 p.m. Thursday with the Rev. Frank Murray presiding. Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland will celebrate the funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Friday. Burial will take place in the family lot at Forest Hill Cemetery in Old Town in the spring.