For 97 years, Our Lady of Peace has provided a spiritual home for North Haven’s Catholic community. It was built and consecrated to attract domestic workers from Ireland to the island, and has since hosted a transient Catholic population, largely made up of summer residents.
But due to the declining numbers of congregants and the costs associated with maintaining the wooden structure, the church, which was owned by the Bishop of Portland, was recently sold to summer resident Peter Allen.
“The church was opened as a summer mission church, and numbers in recent years, prior to going on the market, were small,” said Dave Guthro, communications director for the Bishop of Portland. “Sometimes, Masses drew only three to five people.”
Tom Coughlin, an industrial engineer and lay person helping with the church’s operations, including leading communion services for the last six years, said average attendance since 2012 was 15 people per service, with no attendees from the year-round community.
“To keep a wooden structure together you’ve really got to have people in the community, year round residents and so forth, be active,” he said.
In addition to financial concerns, Coughlin cited a lack of available priests as a reason for the church’s closure.
“The priest in Camden covers 950 square miles, and this past summer he was all alone with three deacons,” he said. “One deacon works the prison, two deacons are headquartered in Camden, so he has three major churches—Rockland, Camden, Belfast, and he had four mission churches—Thomaston, North Haven, Islesboro and Vinalhaven.” Coughlin said services will continue on Vinalhaven and Islesboro.
The church was on the market for several years before being sold to Allen, said Guthro.
“The permanent closure of the church was approved, but the deconsecrating of a church occurs in conjunction with the completed sale,” he said. Religious articles have been removed from the building and are being stored in Rockland, said Coughlin.
“The Baptists and the Episcopalians have been more than cordial, inviting us to use either of their two churches,” he added.
Allen said he was drawn to the building because of its beauty.
“It’s so clean and the wood is gorgeous and the smell is wonderful, the soaring feeling, it has a real serenity to it,” he said.
Allen owns the Wooster Farm, famous for being the summer home of artist Frank Benson. He said he plans to use the church building as an art gallery.
“I have a large art collection and am going to put a lot of art in it, a lot of Frank Benson art and other art that I’ve been collecting,” he said. “I believe in restoring things and making them open, living museums, so to that extent things will be maintained like that, [along with] its hundred year old character,” Allen said.
“It’s part of North Haven’s heritage and I’m happy to preserve that heritage,” he said.