Fond recollections of times gone by

15 years ago

By Lois Downing
Special to the Pioneer Times

   My involvement with St. Mary of the Visitation began in the early 1970s when my husband, Dr. Milton Downing, relocated from Lewiston. We had three children, Kathy, 9, Matthew, 7, and Paul Joseph, 3 — commonly called “Doc,” or “PJ” by his friends.
   Msgr. Michael Tierney was the pastor at the time and he welcomed me and my family. Monsignor quickly became one of my husband's patients. I fell in love with St. Mary Church from the first time I walked in — it is so beautiful, light and airy.
   Msgr. Tierney had the largest hands I had ever seen, as he plunked them on my head when I was a youngster at the convent school in Calais. He loved my father and said his funeral Mass.
   When Rev. John E. Bellefontaine arrived in Houlton, he needed someone to type and I was recommended. From that time I worked under several priests, but most of my work in the office was under Fr. Belle. I paid bills, some hand-to-hand, kept records, made out certificates, counted money, made deposits, typed letters and, oh, so many things. Fr. Belle would marvel at my speed on the typewriter — he would always have a joke to tell, no sour pusses there!
   Under his supervision I learned the challenges and workings of the priests and associates. During Fr. Belle's tenure, many people would stop for a handout. They were either coming or going into Canada. Fr. Belle would always see that they had an extra sandwich to place in their pocket for the next meal.
   The food pantry was just getting under way at that time. I packed many, many boxes at that time and made phone calls. I might add that Albert Burleigh, now a deacon, was a frequent face there and we worked side by side on one of the campaigns.
   Fr. George Hickey was Fr. Belle's assistant at that time. He had a way with plants and the rectory was like a flower garden with plants here and there. Fr. Hickey liked to cook too.
   Several other priests came to serve at St. Mary but the one I remember most was Rev. Coleman O'Toole. Fr. O’Toole explained everything in detail. So, for whatever reason, you knew how and why it was. He was with me at the time of my husband's death and I was one of the first for whom the ladies supplied a bereavement luncheon for my family.
   Sister Margaret Ann, the principal at the convent, needed some help. Fr. O'Toole sent me there and I served as secretary for a while. I even typed a newspaper for the students! I used to type Sister Fulgentia's recipes for her, as she was the cook at the time.
   When the school closed, it left a void in the community. Some of the teachers found other jobs and the Sisters of Mercy were transferred. I still hear from some of them every year at Christmastime.
   I walked all this time, going from my job as a typesetter at the Pioneer Times, to my various jobs at the convent and the rectory. I loved my work. At the rectory, I sent out checks, some hand to hand, readied the mail, recorded the baptisms, marriages, confirmations and anything that needed to be done.
   I even helped in the kitchen and did some housework; jack of all trades, you might say. I loved my work, and the priests were always very good to me.
   My last time there was under Fr. Thomas Murphy, a Houlton native. I always missed my work after I retired, especially the wonderful people of St. Mary and I have many fond memories of my life, my husband and my children there.