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Diocese of Portland

In the State of Maine, suffragan of Boston, established by Pius IX, Dec. 8, 1854

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Portland, Diocese of, in the State of Maine, suffragan of Boston, established by Pius IX, December 8, 1854. When erected it included the territorial limits of the present States of Maine and New Hampshire. Previous to that time it was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Baltimore and later of the Bishop of Boston. In 1884 the diocese was divided, New Hampshire being made a separate diocese and the episcopal see located at Manchester (q.v.). The present Diocese of Portland includes all the State of Maine. It has an area of 29,895 square miles, and a Catholic population of 125,000, or one-sixth of the total population. The diocese is organized in the form of a corporation sole, the title of which is “Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland”.

EARLY HISTORY.—The earliest attempts at Catholic colonization in the north or east of what is known as the United States took place in Southern Maine. In_ 1604, sixteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Henry IV King of France, gave authority to Pierre du Gaust, Sieur de Monts, to establish colonies between the 40th and 46th degrees of north latitude. He landed at Cape La Heve, on the southern part of the Nova Scotian coast, and after making several expeditions to the north in the vicinity of the St. Lawrence, sailed south and discovered and named the River St. John, thence south to an island which he named Ste-Croix, or Holy Cross, and now called De Monts Island. The Ste-Croix River derived its name from this island, and today flows by the easternmost part of the United States. A colony was established on this island, and in their chapel in July, 1604, Holy Mass was offered for the first time in New England by the Rev. Nicholas Aubray of Paris. The hardships of the severe winter were such that seventy-nine of the colonists died before the opening of spring.

From Ste—Croix Island on September 12, 1605, Champlain set out on a voyage of discovery. He sailed west along the coast as far as the Penobscot River, which he ascended to the mouth of the Kenduskeag Stream, the present site of Bangor. The falls, a mile above, prevented further progress. Descending the Penobscot River, Champlain sailed west to the mouth of the Kennebec and then returned to the Island of Holy Cross. No doubt Holy Mass was offered up on this voyage. This was the first foothold of France and Catholicism in the North. Potrincourt who succeeded De Mont, after receiving a blessing on his labors from the pope, applied himself to the work of colonization and Christianizing the natives. Two Jesuits, Fathers Peter Biard and Enemond Masse, who were sent to him after some work among the Micmacs of Nova Scotia, came to Maine, and began their very successful labors among the Abenaki. In a vessel under the command of La Saussaye, having on board also Fathers Quentin and Lalemant, and the lay brother Du Thet, who had lately come from France, they sailed to the west and came to Mt. Desert Island, where they landed, and having erected a cross, set up an altar, and, after offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, founded a settlement which they called St. Sauveur, or Holy Redeemer. This settlement was destroyed by Argall, who came from Virginia. The Fathers were taken prisoners, and after many hardships were finally returned to France. Brother Du Thet was killed and buried on this island.

Some Capuchins were afterwards stationed along the coast in the French posts, and had a convent at Castine, and some settlements along the Kennebec. In 1646, Father Gabriel Druillettes was sent to the Kennebec and established the mission of the Assumption among the Abenaki, obtaining wonderful results from this docile people. In 1652, he returned to Canada, but in 1656 and 1657, came again and continued his work. Rev. Laurent Molin, a Franciscan, labored at Pentagoet. In 1667, Father Morain was successful with the Penobscots and Passamaquoddy Indians. In 1667, Father Thury, a secular priest, came to the Penobscots and labored successfully among them to the close of his life. In 1668, he established the mission at Panawaniski, at Oldtown. He was succeeded by Fathers Gaudin and Rageot, who remained among the Penobscots until 1703. In 1668, Father Bigot erected a chapel at Narantsouac, now Norridgewock, restoring the mission. The Jesuits, Fathers Joseph de la Chasse, Julian Binneteau, Joseph Aubery, Sebastian Rasle, Sebastian Lauvergat and Loyard, labored in turn. Of these Father Rasle is the best known. He came to Norridgewock in 1695. There he found a chapel and had the Indians instructed. In 1705, the English destroyed the chapel and village. They were rebuilt in 1722, were once more destroyed, and Father Rasle’s treasures were carried off, including his dictionary of the Abenaki language, now in Harvard College. Father Rasle was murdered and scalped on August 23, 1724, and his scalp carried to Boston. His body was buried on the spot where the altar had stood. Father James de Sirenne restored the mission at Norridgewock in 1730. For a long period during the wars the Indians were without missionaries, yet they remained faithful. Numbers of the Abenaki fought for the Colonies during the War of Independence. After the war, when Bishop Carroll was consecrated first Bishop of the United States, the Indians sent a deputation to him for a priest. Father Ciquard, a priest of St. Sulpice, was sent in answer to this appeal and remained for ten years, until 1794. In 1797, the Rev. John Cheverus, then a missionary at Boston, came to visit the Indians and remained three months, and while priest and first Bishop of Boston, visited them every year until 1804, built them a church and gave them Father Romagne as their pastor. The latter devoted himself for twenty years to the Penobscots and Passamaquoddys and to the scattered Catholic missions. Bishop Fenwick was consecrated in 1825, and continued the work. Father Ffrench, a Dominican, was stationed at Eastport, and from that place visited the Indian missions. In July, 1827, Bishop Fenwick visited them and at intervals later. In 1833, 109 years after the destruction of the mission at Norridgewock, Bishop Fenwick erected a monument to the memory of Father Rasle. Father Demilier continued the work until his death July 23, 1843. Bishop Fitzpatrick, the successor to Bishop Fenwick, gave over the Abenaki mission to the Society of Jesus, and in 1848, Father John Bapst was sent to Oldtown and became a zealous missionary to both whites and Indians. The Indians of Maine are, as a result of the careful teaching and self-sacrificing labors of the missionaries, Catholics.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, some immigrants from Ireland came to Maine and settled in the towns of Newcastle, Damariscotta, and Nobleboro. Seven Catholic families had settled at Damariscotta Bridge, and for them Father Cheverus said Mass in the barn of Matthew Cottrill. Later Mr. James Kavanaugh, a merchant of the town, had fitted up a neat chapel and Mass was celebrated there on the visitations of the priest. In 1800, Mr. Kavanaugh and his partner, Mr. Cottrill, subscribed $1000 each for the new church, which was dedicated July 17, 1808, Father Cheverus officiating. This was the second Catholic church in New England, and the first built by English-speaking Catholics in Maine. In 1822, Bishop Cheverus came to Portland at the request of some Catholics, and said the first Mass in Portland. Bishop Fenwick succeeded Bishop Cheverus and ruled the New England province from 1825 to 1845. The work of Bishop Cheverus among the Indians was continued by Bishop Fenwick, and he established in July, 1834, the Catholic colony at Benedicta in Northern Maine and today all the inhabitants of the township are Catholics. In 1853 the Holy See divided the diocese of Boston and erected a new see at Portland, and named its first bishop, David William Bacon.

JAMES AUGUSTINE HEALY, second bishop, b. at Macon, Ga., April 6, 1830. He entered Holy Cross College, 1844, and graduated, 1849. His theological education was received at the Grand Seminary, Montreal, where he spent three years, then two years at St-Sulpice, Paris. He was ordained in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, by Archbishop Sibour, June 10, 1854. He began his priestly labors in Boston as Secretary to Bishop Fitzpatrick, and became the first chancellor of the diocese. In March, 1866, he was named pastor of St. James’ Church by Bishop Williams. A papal bull dated February 12, 1875, designated him as second Bishop of Portland. He was consecrated in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland, June 2, 1875. When he assumed the cares of the diocese he found the Church well established in the cities of Maine and New Hampshire. In the small towns, however, little was known of Catholic doctrine. Bishop Healy established many missions and new parishes and the Catholic name became known in all parts of the state. He introduced the Dominicans and Marists and some religious orders of women, and was instrumental in establishing the hospital and Healy Asylum in Lewiston. In February, 1877, the school begun in Portland by Bishop Bacon was completed at a cost of $23,000. It is named the Kavanaugh School in honor of Miss Kavanaugh, a sister of Governor Edward Kavanaugh. In 1881, Bishop Healy purchased a splendid estate in Deering, then a separate town, but now a part of Portland, and opened a boarding school for girls, under the care of the Sisters of Mercy. It is known as St. Joseph‘s Academy, and has an enrollment of about 100 pupils.

He also caused to be built on the same grounds a home for aged women, and a neat chapel to serve the needs of the Catholics in the vicinity. In 1887, St. Elizabeth‘s Orphan Asylum, which had been transferred to North Whitefield, shortly after his accession, was reestablished in Portland. The Sacred Heart School for boys was established by him in 1893. Bishop Healy died August 5, 1900, respected and beloved by priests and people, as a scholar, a master of oratory, and a man of sanctity.

The third Bishop of Portland was William Henry O’Connell (see Archdiocese of Boston).

LOUIS SEBASTIAN WALSH, fourth bishop, b. at Salem, Mass, January 22, 1858, son of Patrick Walsh and Honora Foley. He was educated for the priesthood at the Grand Seminary, Montreal, and St-Sulpice Seminary, Paris, and later made profounder studies of canon law and theology at Rome. Ordained in St. John Lateran, Rome, December 23, 1882, by Cardinal La Valletta, he was appointed assistant pastor at St. Joseph‘s Church, Boston, and professor and director at St. Joseph‘s Seminary, Brighton, at its opening in 1884, where for thirteen years he taught church history, canon law, and liturgy. In September, 1897, he was appointed supervisor of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. He was one of the founders of the “New England Catholic Historical Society“, also of the “Catholic Educational Association“. He was appointed Bishop of Portland in August, 1906, and consecrated in the cathedral at Portland on October 18, 1905, by Rt. Rev. Matthew Harkins of Providence. New parishes and schools were soon established, and the mother-house of the Diocesan Sisters of Mercy was erected in the Deering district of Portland. Bishop Walsh opened in September, 1909, the Catholic Institute in the former mother-house of the Sisters of Mercy, wherein are taught 200 boys, also the Holy Innocents Home for Infants and St. Anthony’s Guild for Working Girls. At Damariscotta in August, 1908, a celebration was arranged to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the parish church, and on this occasion was formed the “Maine Catholic Historical Society“. At Norridgewock the monument erected by Bishop Fenwick to the memory of Father Rasle, S.J., was replaced and rededicated. On Mt. Desert Island in the town of Bar Harbor the arrival of the first missionaries, in 1604, was commemorated; and a beautiful church dedicated under the name given to the island by them, that of St-Sauveur or Holy Redeemer, was erected. The charities of the diocese have been arranged on a permanent basis. In general it may be said that there is a splendid advance in all that pertains to the Church.

STATISTICS.—Within the limits of the diocese, comprising the State of Maine there are (1911) 125,000 Catholics. They are cared for by 125 seculars and 22 priests of religious orders. There are 70 churches with resident pastors and 49 mission churches, 36 chapels and 67 stations. There is one college, St. Mary’s, Van Buren, conducted by the Marist Fathers. Nine academies have an enrollment of 500 pupils. St. Joseph‘s Academy of Maine, conducted by the Sisters of Mercy, is the largest and best, and furnishes instruction to 100 pupils. There are two schools for Indians caring for 132 pupils; three Catholic hospitals and one home for aged women. The orphans under Catholic care number 415. Total of young people under Catholic care, 12,274.

RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES.—The Dominican Fathers are established in Lewiston and the Marists at Van Buren and Lower Grand Isle. The Diocesan Sisters of Mercy have their mother-house in Portland and number 185. The following Sisters and congregations are engaged in various parts of the state: The Sisters of Charity; Grey Nuns; Dominican Sisters; Little Sisters of the Holy Family; Little Franciscan Sisters of Mary; Sisters of the Holy Rosary; Congregation of Notre Dame; Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Daughters of Wisdom; Sisters of the Presentation; Ursuline Sisters; Sisters of St. Joseph.


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