NEWCASTLE, Maine — Tom Kronenberger has spent a career restoring old buildings in Connecticut. He retired at a home in Maine and joined the congregation of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Newcastle.
He was just one more member of the church family, until it came time to do a major restoration of the 212 year old building.
When church leaders learned of Kronenberger’s background, he was promptly recruited to lead the renovation work.
“Well, it was urgent. Nothing had been done in 200 years,” he said on Friday.
However, some repairs had been made over the past 200 years. The roof had been replaced, surely more than once. And bricks that became damaged were also replaced.
But Kronenberger says there were problems with those repairs. More modern bricks and mortars were used, which didn’t combine well with the original materials.
The end result was more problems, which were resolved in the restoration by grinding out all the mortar between the bricks, replacing some with brick similar to the old ones and replacing the mortar with a mix compatible with the old bricks.
Rotted sills on the windows were also replaced, and all the church stained glass windows were removed and rehabilitated by a specialty business in New York.
When asked if the work will last, Kronenberger replied with a definite yes.
“I think it's good for another hundred years,” he said.
“It's got to be washed and maintained,” he added.
The historic church will hold Mass this Sunday for the first time since renovation work began last September. The small building had been open for service two days a week before then, with Mass held in the larger, modern building next door the rest of the days.
And while reopening the original St. Patrick’s is a thankful moment for local Catholics, it also has a meaning for the whole state. The church, which opened in 1808, is the oldest Catholic church in New England.
Carrie Watson, who helps lead activities at St. Patrick’s, says that history and distinction matters to them.
“For me, the history means this church was built here in 1808 by Irish Catholics. And was built because for Catholics, there was a problem with Catholics in general, and anti-Catholic attitude," Watson said.
St. Patrick’s was built by a small enclave of Catholics who came to Newcastle to build or work in mills and on ships. That was a time when those of the Catholic faith were still a distinct minority in Maine and New England, though they would later become dominant.
Watson says they persevered despite the obstacles, and built the church and their lives.
“They did it anyway, and that was in 1808 and it's history. And we’re still here,” Watson said.
For those of the faith, that too will be celebrated Sunday. In the building that has survived along with them.