2013-09-06 / Community

A Window on the Past

Last services for St. John’s Church are near
By Kathryn DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society

St. John the Evangelist Church before the 1962 addition. (Courtesy photo) St. John the Evangelist Church before the 1962 addition. (Courtesy photo) As St. John the Evangelist Church prepares to close its doors, there will be two chances to attend final Mass: the final weekend Mass will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, and the final closing Mass and reception will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11.

The origins of St. John’s date back to 1855 when the Catholic Diocese of Portland purchased land in the Cash Corner area to establish Calvary Cemetery; in 1860, a small memorial chapel known as Mount Calvary Chapel was built in the cemetery. In 1910, Sunday Mass was offered in Calvary Chapel by the cemetery director, the Rev. Timothy Houlihan. In 1926, the small chapel was upgraded and expanded to serve the growing populations in the Cash Corner, Ligonia and Thornton Heights neighborhoods. As the number of parishioners continued to grow, however, work began on a new church on Main Street in 1939; the church was blessed in 1940 by the Most Reverend Joseph E. McCarthy and named St. John the Evangelist. The Rev. John Ryan celebrated its first Mass in 1940 and he served as St. John’s pastor from 1940 until 1971.

According to records from the church, in 1959, “Father Ryan requested the services of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec) to take the lead in coordinating religious education programs” at St. John. “The convent residence for six teaching Sisters was connected to the school building by a breezeway. The Center was opened on November 8, 1959. On January 10, 1960, 665 elementary students and 140 high school students enrolled.”

In 1962, with 700 families registered at St. John’s, the church underwent enlargements and improvements to accommodate the growing number of parishioners. The number of families was at an all-time high in 1988, with 1,880 families registered at St. John. St. Maximilian Kolbe parish was established at that time and St. John’s Scarborough parishioners moved to the new parish.

Our thanks to Shirley Estabrooks, Robert Ferrante, Sister Elaine Lachance and the rest of the St. John’s History Committee for providing information related to the history of St. John the Evangelist Church. We wish for a smooth transition for all of the St. John’s parishioners who will be moving to other local parishes.

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