Header Sts Peter and Paul 1900
Paroisse SS. Pierre et Paul
SS. Peter & Paul Parish
Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
HATE! - A part of the "Human Condition"
Good Start Huh!
“The human condition arises from the existence of so-called ‘good and evil’ in our make-up. We humans are capable of shocking acts of inhumanity like rape, murder and torture and our agonizing predicament or ‘condition’ has been that we have never been able to explain and thus understand why.” - “Freedom: Expanded Book 2” Jeremy Griffith, 2009
The beginnings of our French Canadian roots in Lewiston were not without troubles!  As history seems to repeat itself today, HATE reared it's ugly head more than 150 years ago, in  1855, when the anti-Catholic "Know-Nothings" burned the former First Baptist church, which had been renamed St. Johns, to serve the catholic faith in Lewiston. 
By 1869, French-speaking worshippers attended mass in the basement of the St. Joseph’s church where the homily could be delivered in French.  Shortly after, the first of our ancestors purchased the former St. John’s church on Lincoln Street.
The first priest from Canada, Reverend Edouard Letourneau, celebrated the first Mass at St. John's on July 2, 1870, performing the first marriage the same day.  Less than 18-months later he was replaced by Father Pierre Hévey from St-Hyacinthe, Québec.  It was father Hévey who provided the encouragement to the French speaking population to build a new church.
After securing a loan backed by his own personal property and life insurance, the first donation towards the building fund was a $10 gift from Eleusippe Garneau (I 168357) in February 1871. Nine years later, the bank assets had grown to over $100,000.
The parish acquired land and the cornerstone for the first St. Peter’s was laid on July 7, 1872.  Cost of this church you may ask ... $75,000!  In 2017 that equates to $1,532,000.00 (a difference of $1,457,000.00 over 144 years.)   The church was consecrated on May 4, 1873 by Bishop Bacon.  By this time, 2, 054 people (putting their own homes and families on the back burner) had donated their savings to make the construction possible.
A lengthy article appeared in the Lewiston Evening Journal the following day, May 5, 1873, detailing the “New French Catholic Church.”  Excerpts from the article appear below.  (some parts removed, image of Father Hévey added by me).
Image - Lewiston Evening Journal May 5, 1873
This (revised and Photoshop edited version) of the original article is available in a PDF format HERE.
Photo - Very Rev. A.L. Mothon, O.P.
Photo -The Sacred Heart Review, Aug. 15, 1896
THIS, THEN, WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE BUILDING OF A PARISH THE CONTINUES - TO THIS DAY
It was 1873 and the number of Franco-Americans in Lewiston was just a fraction of what it would become over the next 30-40 years.  This beautiful new church, bought and paid for by our ancestors, was beyond anybody's expectations but, nobody could imagine that it would be outgrown and unable to serve the masses of industrious French Canadians who were either recruited for work in the mills or who came to Lewiston in search of a better life. This first church had a seating capacity of 800.
In 1881, Dominican Fathers of Lille, France and the Province of Canada took over the administration of the parish.  Headed by Very Rev. Alexandre L. Mothon, O. P. Dominican Prior, St. Peter's Church, Lewiston, Me.
With the original building literally bursting at the seams, church fathers began discussing expansion plans as early as 1889.  The rapid growth of parishioners, despite having added several side chapels to the original building AND having split the congregation with the addition of St. Louis in Auburn, was overwhelming.    It was Father Mothon who initiated the enlargement of the church with the construction of a foundation and basement, which was completed in 1897.  After pausing to pay of its debts, it was announced in 1901 that a massive new church would be built on the Mothon foundation. The decision made, in 1905 the original church would be demolished; it was simply too small to handle the, now 10,000, parishioners.
Photo - The First St. Peter's Church, Lewiston, ME
The first St. Peter's Church
Image - Album Historique - The Dominicain Fathers - published 1899
Soon after the old church had been torn down, work on the lower part of the new church started. Church goers would worship in a large temporary building known as the shed while work on the new church was going on.  From then on, however, it was a long row to hoe to complete the new building. None of the parishoners could have imagined at the time, just how long this would take. The original architect of the church was a Belgian, Noel Coumont, who lived in Lewiston in 1905 when the project began. Coumont was let go or fired and he was followed by other architects and managed to get the basement of the church completed in 1906 so that mass could be regularly held there.

But that was it...  In addition to a lack of funds, the construction was fraught with religious infighting, arguments over architects, opposition of some factions inside of Lewiston, and even a Bishop in Portland who didn't want to see his own cathedral "outdone".  I think many of our parents and grandparents were most likely is a state of disbelief that all of this was actually happening.
With the permission of the Diocese of Portland in 1933, the Upper church construction resumed in 1934.  Services continued to be held in the Lower Church until 1938.  On October 23, 1938, the dedication by Most Rev. Joseph Edward McCarthy, Bishop of Portland, was made.  It was attended by thousands! 

The first wedding performed after the dedication was that of Laureat E. Roy (
I 66101) of Auburn and Jacqueline E. Thibault (I 66100)of Lewiston. 
An American nativist political party that operated nationally in the mid-1850s. It was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration.
A Google Search will provide much more information.
The Cathedral That Nickels and Dimes (and a few extra pennies) Built
The Franco-Americans were among Lewiston’s poorest immigrants, but it was their money that built - and recently restored - one on the city’s greatest landmarks.

Between 1906 and 1938 our devoutly Catholic parents, grandparents and other ancestors labored, toiled and donated their hard earned nickels and dimes to erect this imposing monument to their faith.  In a parish of shoe-factory and textile-mill immigrant workers, there were no wealthy benefactors available. And so, the $800,000 it took to build this cathedral was raised literally nickel by nickel, dime by dime. Our families held bake sales, ball games, and practically every other community event possible to raise money. Despite the difficult years of the Great Depression they were determined to have a place to worship!  The result is a French Gothic grand cathedral built of Maine granite with enough wooden pews to seat 2,200 worshipers.  Our church was back!

Evidently this is more than just a fact.  In an article in the Down East magazine in January 1999,  Ed Leveque says "in the forties and fifties, you had to buy a ticket before Thanksgiving in order to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve."
Nickels and Dimes
Sign Post - Bartlett and Ash
The church, cathedral and today, Basilica sits on the corner of Ash and Bartlett Streets. It defines the skyline of Lewiston.  It sits on a hill and rises 168 feet in the air.  It is the largest church in Maine and the second largest Catholic church in New England.
(
St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut is the largest).
My own cousins and other relatives not only contributed their loose change, others provided their expertise, craftsmanship and time during this lengthy period of construction.
Family Involved with St. Peter's Church
Working on plans
Front - Pete Malo, Evano Desjardins; Rear - (l-r) Felix, Maurice, Emile Malo
Stained Glass Window - Famille Louis Malo
Above the altar rises one of the cathedral's great stained glass windows, (commerating the family of Louis Malo). "Its scale, as well as its commanding location, emulate the way the medieval cathedrals dominated their own communities," says Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission ...
Photo - Stained glass window dedicated to the family of Louis Malo
Restoration Header

Bangor Daily News, By Julia Bayly and Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
March 31, 2015
Today, Lewiston is home to the last regular French-language Mass in Maine, celebrated at 4 p.m. each Saturday at the Basilica. During a recent service, about 150 people attended the Mass, held in the chapel in the church basement.

Artisian restoring the plaster walls
Restoring the plaster on the walls

During the 1960's and into the 1970's, the great church of Saints Peter and Paul began to deteriorate.  Huge cracks appeared in the front towers.  All around the base lay bits of stone that had crumbled off.  By the 1980s, it was clear that the church was in need of major restoration, but with the congregation having dwindled to 4,000, and three priests to perform services, the future looked grim.  Once more the community rallied behind the church and began the process of funding the restoration.  Actual work on the restoration of the upper church began in 1991. It was completed eleven years later in 2002.
The restoration of the upper church was in progress during one of my visits to Lewiston in 2001. I'm not sure quite how, or why I was able to document some of the work in pictures, but thanks to the Pastor, Rev. Robert D. Lariviere and my cousin Roger Sutton, I have but four pictures of the meticulous efforts undertaken to ensure the longevity of this magnificent building for generations to come.

Artisian restoring the plaster walls
Restoring the plaster on the walls
These carved wooden figures had been removed, and painstakingly restored to thier original grandeur and remounted to watch over future generations who may find their way home.

At this point, (2002) the exterior of the cathedral has been completely restored, a new zoned heating system and handicapped-access elevator have been installed, and work has just begun to repaint and replaster the flaking and peeling water-damaged walls (
see photos) within the church as well as complete restoration of other facets of the building.

Today, (2015) even with the dwindling number of French speakers remaining in Lewiston, there is still one mass each week offered in French. I was fortunate to attend Mass with my cousins Roger and Adrienne Sutton while I was there.

St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary Statues Restored


Sources for Information on this page
In addition to what I know and what I've learned, information on this page comes from a variety of sources including, but not limited to:
"The Cathedral That Nickels and Dimes Built" by Ellen MacDonald Ward - Down East Magazine January 1999.
Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn by Mary Rice-DeFosse & James Myall
Lewiston and Auburn by Kenneth Dutil
Lewiston Memories - A bicentennial pictorial by Douglas I. Hodgkin
Androscoggin County, Maine - 150th A Pictorial Sesquicentennial History, 1854-2004 Edited by Michael C. Lord and W. Dennis Stires
Wiki - online
The Portland Catholic Diocese
The Sacred Heart Review - Aug 15, 1896
Various Newspaper Articles - Sun Journal
St. Peter & Paul Website (defunct)
TIMELINE
Sts. Peter & Paul, today a part of the "Prince of Peace" Parish has a website that offers up more information about the church.  It can be found by clicking HERE.
There is a complete historical timeline of the church from it's humble beginnings until now.  I had copied this timeline some years back. I have decided to reproduce it again, directly from their page.  It is available as a PDF document by clicking HERE.  I did not get permission to use this timeline.  If anybody knows of a reason that I should remove it, please let me know.
Finally, the Sun Journal newspaper of Lewiston Maine has completed a series called - Celebrating the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul: A final offering.  The entire series will be archived at sunjournal.com/basilica.  Click on the URL to visit.  In addition, a book reprising the series is still available from their website for $24.95. (as of Aug 2018) AND - you can use PayPal to purchase. And, don't you just know ... I bought the book!
Follow the rest of the Lachance and Lewiston pages using the menu at the top or by clicking on the links HERE
Back To Previous PageBack To Previous Page
Any Commercial, religious, or other use, without the consent of the compiler (Larry Lachance) is prohibited!
If you use information or data from this site, you must give proper acknowledgement and credit. 
Contact me with your comments and corrections.
Copying expressly forbidden except for your PERSONAL (not-for-profit/non-commercial) Family History/Genealogy.