The fate of a rural Maine chapel worries neighbors
ROXBURY – With its peeling white paint, slightly sagging floor and weed-strewn grounds, the old chapel that stands across from a Main Street information booth about conservation efforts at Ellis Pond has clearly seen better days since summer residents banded together to build it nearly 75 years ago.
For decades it provided summer services to the predominantly French-American community that camped along the shores of the pond. It also served as a meeting hall for the Silver Lake Camp Owners’ Association which oversees the 920-acre pond.
Now, however, the fate of the building and the land it sits on is up in the air.
Residents fear the property’s owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, is planning to sell it, no strings attached, despite their pleas to find a way to ensure it remains the centerpiece of their community. for a long time.
“We cannot understand what is happening. They won’t meet us,” said Matt Towle, a longtime resident active with the association.
For some, saving the building is essential for the community.
“It’s the only place we can congregate right by the pond,” said Steve Griffin, who is active with the Camp Owners Association.
The pond, sometimes called Roxbury Pond or Silver Lake, is nestled in the hills between the land station of Andover in rural Oxford County and the River Swift.
It’s the kind of place, Towle says, where a real community can grow and has grown over the decades, with many families coming for generations, and some staying year-round.
“You have people who will respect your privacy and at the same time be there when you need them,” Towle said.
Griffin said people are good to each other and someone is more likely to be hit by a kayak on the water than a speedboat.
“It’s not like a Sebago environment,” Towle said.
BUILD A CHAPEL
Residents began raising funds in the 1940s to erect a chapel and banded together to build it, completing the work around 1950. They expanded what was then called the Silver Lake Chapel a few years later.
A news report from the time said that “campers and camp owners of all faiths” contributed time and money to the project.
It’s not an elaborate place, just planks of wood on concrete footings, with a small steeple. But it’s still big enough to hold over a hundred people with ease.
The building’s original owner, the Silver Lake Chapel Association, decided in 1955, by a vote of 23 to 3, to give the chapel to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which would administer it through St. Therese Parish. in Mexico.
The local parish priest, the Reverend George Cyr, invited the bishop, Daniel Feeney, to come and bless the new chapel in a grand ceremony held in August 1956. Cyr said in a written recollection that because the blessing had been made on the day of the feast of the Assumption, the church chose to name it Sainte-Marie chapel.
A COMMUNITY CENTER
For many years the chapel offered summer church services which drew large crowds.
Towle said he remembered an older man who used to sit on the front porch collecting “seat money” to help pay for new benches purchased in the 1960s. most of them still bear small plaques honoring the donor who paid them.
Just ten years ago, Reverend Raymond “Moots” Carignan used to hold daily services at the lakeside chapel where he spent his summers for many years. But when Carignan died in 2013, the services apparently ceased.
In 2010, the Silver Lake Camp Owners’ Association wrote to a bishop in Portland to inquire about the building’s availability.
“It is thanks to the work of our grandparents and our parents that the chapel was built”, writes Angie Arsenault, then president of the association. “Needless to say, we feel very strongly attached to the chapel.
“We are concerned about any future change in ownership of the chapel,” Arsenault wrote.
She suggested it be kept as a non-profit community resource that “would benefit from the support and care of full-time and seasonal residents of the area.”
“We are definitely opposed to any commercial development or private ownership of the facility,” she said.
Other letters followed.
One of them, from James Wendt, a new president of the association, asked that the building and the property be returned to the community.
“I believe this is the most Christian way for the church to relinquish ownership of the property,” he wrote, asking for at least the right of first refusal if it ends up being sold.
The association aims to use the buildings for its meetings and activities.
NO WORD FROM THE DIOCESE
Church officials were particularly wary of telling the community much. They also did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
In 2014, the Reverend Greg Dube in Rumford said in an email to a member of the association that he did not know what the future use of the chapel would be.
“It’s something that needs to be addressed,” Dube wrote to Sally Arsenault.
Members of the lake association, however, said they had heard that the church was paving the way for the sale of the building, including seeking the descendants of someone who had donated part of the land to obtain their permission. .
Towle said Friday, however, that he doesn’t appear to be on the market.
He said efforts to meet with church property officials came to nothing.
“Our requests are falling on deaf ears,” Towle said.
For Griffin, who spent 75 years by the pond after his father built a camp in 1941, the chapel is central to community life.
“We are the heirs of the people who built this building,” Griffin said, and should be the ones deciding its fate.
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