As my blog readers know, I’ve been writing about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine for the last 8 months. This Sunday’s Sun Journal (October 8) will feature the “Basilica Brides” story followed by three additional articles. October 15 is tentatively titled “Potpourri of Images” and will feature photographs that didn’t make it into the series for one reason or another. Things like the “dragon devil door handle” I spotted on the Blake Street side of the building. Then October 22 will be (hopefully) an interview with either Father Nadeau or the Bishop about the edifice’s future. The last article, a first person narrative, will be about the writing experience.
The end of this long writing trek is in sight.
The other day, I overheard an elderly local say “I’ll be glad when that Basilica series is over.” I laughed and a variety of responses circled around the synapses. Even in their long, slow decline, Lewiston’s French Catholics continue to annoy the Protestants.
For a moment, I wondered about the reader’s comprehension abilities; the series hasn’t been about Catholicism. It’s been about many things, but mainly about the history of Maine’s largest ethnic group. Surely, you realize that 24% of Maine’s population self-identifies as Franco American? Writing about what mattered to this large ethnic group is important, not just to me personally as one of them but to a large number of Maine’s population.
This work is about Lewiston, but it could be the story of any New England mill town. What did this group of people think? What did they build? What remains? My research into the lower church’s construction reminded me of the tenacity and patience these people had, waiting thirty years for the completion of their cathedral. It reminded me of Israel Shevenell, Biddeford’s first French-Canadian. He walked almost 200 miles from Compton, Quebec to Biddeford in 1845 to find work as a bricklayer.
Waiting, writing, or walking, drawing valuable attention to Lewiston’s ancestors and what mattered to them is important. It’s been exhausting and it hasn’t been easy. Blog reader “Loosehead Prop” says “like most good and important things, it doesn’t feel all that good and important when you are actually doing it, but it is nonetheless good and important.”
The Gendron Franco Center will be screening a film about Israel Shevenell, The Home Road, on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. I’m looking forward to going and bringing some of my ancestors.
Vive la Canadienne!