2017-09-07 / Front Page

Awaiting purpose

Former St. Andre church could be put to use soon
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


St. Andre Church has been vacant since its last Mass in 2010. Southern Maine Affordable Housing purchased the property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in 2014. Affordable housing director Guy Gagnon identified St. Andre as an important cultural landmark for the neighborhood and didn’t want to see it fall into further disrepair. (Grant McPherson photo) St. Andre Church has been vacant since its last Mass in 2010. Southern Maine Affordable Housing purchased the property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in 2014. Affordable housing director Guy Gagnon identified St. Andre as an important cultural landmark for the neighborhood and didn’t want to see it fall into further disrepair. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – St. Andre Church could see new life soon, along with the rectory, as the Mission Hill neighborhood continues to be revitalized.

Southern Maine Affordable Housing finished renovations to St. Andre School and convent within the past year. They are now both low income housing units for seniors. Southern Maine Affordable Housing purchased the church from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in September 2014 for $300,000.

Southern Maine Affordable Housing Executive Director Guy Gagnon will make a presentation at the Oct. 4 planning board. Adjustments to the application include making sure all the work is in compliance with city codes. Plans were delayed because of a frozen pipe that burst during winter last year. If approved, work on the church could begin this fall. Gagnon has accepted a proposal from GracePoint Church to occupy the main floor of the building, although the agreement is not finalized. GracePoint is located at 50 Adams St. in Biddeford. Pastor Andrew Warde of GracePoint did not want to comment on the possible move.


Before an automatic system was installed, members of the church had to pump air into the organ by hand. The organ is one of the few relics of the church that still remains. Guy Gagnon demonstrates. The bell, altar and much of the stained glass were all sold by the diocese when they left the church. (Grant McPherson photo) Before an automatic system was installed, members of the church had to pump air into the organ by hand. The organ is one of the few relics of the church that still remains. Guy Gagnon demonstrates. The bell, altar and much of the stained glass were all sold by the diocese when they left the church. (Grant McPherson photo) “The church is the last piece of the neighborhood we are working on,” Gagnon said.


At right is the basement at St. Andre Church. Renovations to the church were delayed when a frozen pipe burst and ruined much of the paint and carpeting within the church. (Grant McPherson photo) At right is the basement at St. Andre Church. Renovations to the church were delayed when a frozen pipe burst and ruined much of the paint and carpeting within the church. (Grant McPherson photo) St. Andre Church has remained vacant since its last Mass in December 2010. Gagnon and the board of Southern Maine Affordable Housing felt the fate of the neighborhood depended on St. Andre’s Parish, and they didn’t want to see it rot away.

“What happens (to St. Andre) will have a major impact on the surrounding streets, homes, apartments and buildings. Our board felt it was something we should do,” Gagnon said.

The structure of the church is in relatively stable condition, according to Gagnon. Because the church was built more than 100 years ago, the city has to assume the paint used has some amount of lead in it. Southern Maine Affordable Housing will have to hire a specialist to remove it in accordance with city codes. When a sprinkler pipe froze and burst the carpets and paint from much of the interior were removed.


Catholicism was extremely important to the French-Canadian immigrants who moved to Maine in the late 19th century. St. Mary Church was the first Catholic Church built in Biddeford in 1855 to serve the Irish population and was followed by St. Joseph in 1870 for the French. St. Andre was Biddeford’s second French speaking church. (Grant McPherson photo) Catholicism was extremely important to the French-Canadian immigrants who moved to Maine in the late 19th century. St. Mary Church was the first Catholic Church built in Biddeford in 1855 to serve the Irish population and was followed by St. Joseph in 1870 for the French. St. Andre was Biddeford’s second French speaking church. (Grant McPherson photo) “Everything has to be gutted in essence to start over,” Gagnon said.

Gagnon hopes to have a youth center housed in the lower floor of the church, similar to the Boys and Girls Club, which GracePoint could have involvement with if it chooses. Gagnon said a fundraiser will be held within the next few months to help with renovations. If plans are approved next month, Gagnon said GracePoint could be in the church by Christmastime.


The view looking north from the steeple of St. Andre Church at 75 Bacon St. The building was built in two phases beginning in 1900 and completed in 1910. The basement was completed first and used as a place of worship until the main body of the church was finished. Southern Maine Affordable Housing hopes to put a youth organization in the basement and allow GracePoint Church to occupy the upper level. (Grant McPherson photo) The view looking north from the steeple of St. Andre Church at 75 Bacon St. The building was built in two phases beginning in 1900 and completed in 1910. The basement was completed first and used as a place of worship until the main body of the church was finished. Southern Maine Affordable Housing hopes to put a youth organization in the basement and allow GracePoint Church to occupy the upper level. (Grant McPherson photo) Southern Maine Affordable Housing is also nearly finished work to the rectory, which is next to the church, and will serve as apartments upstairs and a space for students in the Alternative Pathways Center and Biddeford Community Bicycle Center below.

Executive Director for the Community Bicycle Center Bronwyn Barnett has been looking for a more involved partnership with the school department for a while and is excited for the chance to make it a reality. The center has provided various in school programming in Biddeford for the last few years. Many bicycle staff members have close relationships with teachers in the Biddeford school system. The bicycle center will continue operations at its 45 Granite St. location.

“The school department approached us about collaborating on programming and we were thrilled to jump on the opportunity,” she said.

Part of what attracted Barnett to the project is the proximity between the rectory and the bicycle center, which are within walking distance of each other. Barnett sees the center as a home base for children who need their services most. Programming will include not only work on bicycles but community based outreach as well.

“We’re looking forward to developing a stronger relationship with staff and administration at the schools so that we can more efficiently do our jobs by providing a menu of services,” Barnett said.

Beyond housing space for the Community Bicycle Center, St. Andre’s Rectory will serve as a space for students learning English as a second language and families who have immigrated to the United States as refugees. An open house will be held at the rectory in October once faculty and students have had a chance to settle in. Alternative Pathways Director Martha Jacques hopes to host meals there as well.

“I’m hoping other populations will gravitate toward it as a center for positive enrichment in the community,” she said.

This is Jacques’ first year as director. She comes from a background of social work and student services.

“The position is half assistant principal and half social worker, it’s my dream job,” she said.

Alternative Pathways Center is a credit recovery program for students who have difficulty learning in a traditional high school setting. The center helps students who have missed school due to medical treatments or are recovering from mental health issues. Half of the center’s 40 students are in a special education program. Students have opportunities for work experience and vocational learning as well as traditional courses in English, math and science.

“We help students learn skills that apply to real world situations rather than watching them drop out or age out,” Jacques said. “We afford them an opportunity to get a high school diploma and give them one more tool in their back pocket to help them succeed longterm.”

The center will also conduct weekly restorative practice groups led by Jacques and another licensed social workers to focus on students’ mental health. There will be a shower, washer and dryer on site as well for students who need them. Students can also take classed at Biddeford High School and return to Alternative Pathways for other classes or SAT preparation. Jacques sees a growing trend in individualized learning and hopes more schools will work harder to address issues of mental health.

“Hopefully as people see the progress these students make and the time we spend with them working on root issues, mental health will catch on and become a trend,” she said.

Jacques has visited other schools throughout the summer and has seen successes in alternative classrooms. Biddeford school department has been open to hearing different ways to help students.

“The community and the school committee have been very helpful,” she said. “Everyone is supportive and we are excited about the partnership and potential for growth.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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