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$3 million grant to repair historic Maine Irish Heritage Center

The former Catholic church was built in 1892.

PORTLAND, Maine — The old Saint Dominic's church in the heart of Portland has had several lives since it was built.

With the massive sanctuary finished in 1892, Bob Kearney said it's held up "really well." But it is showing its age in places.

The Catholic church closed in the late 1990s, and Kearney and the Maine Irish Heritage Center moved in in the early 2000s.

"We don't have as many of these kinds of buildings around in Portland and in Maine," Kearney said, gazing around its vaulted ceilings while seated in a pew.

With angels still watching from stained glass windows, the sanctuary now hosts music and art, dance and drink. But it's a rare building with rare needs. The slate roof needs fixing; the masonry needs re-laying; all at a $3 million price tag now covered by a recent federal grant.

The grant will help weatherize the outside, while Kearney raises money to renovate the deep cracks creeping up some of the walls inside.

"It'll preserve this building as an architectural gem, but, also, to make it available for the community," Kearney added.

Kathleen Neumann teaches the past at the Maine Historical Society. She's thrilled when historic buildings are repurposed instead of destroyed to make way for new construction.

"To see now that there's a group that's dedicated to preserving the physical history, its spiritual history, its place in the community, that's really important and it's cool to see," Neumann said.

The bell tower and stained glass have stood for 130 years. Kearney hopes they'll welcome visitors just the same for the next 130.

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