Praising it as an act of mercy, Bishop Robert P. Deeley celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul recently for the St. Martin de Porres Residence in Lewiston, which for the past 25 years has served as a place of shelter and hope for the homeless.
“This is a place of welcome, of acceptance, of new possibilities, and of new beginnings,” said Bishop Deeley during the Mass. “That was the vision of Brother Irénée 25 years ago and continues to guide the mission to the present.”
The residence was founded in 1991 by Brother Irénée Richard, O.P., a Dominican brother and deacon of the Catholic Church. Guests, as they are called and treated, receive an evening meal and a place to stay overnight. During the day, they must work to better their situation.
“Our ministry is very simple,” said Brother Irénée. “We welcome our guests with open arms. No matter what they have done or what their issues are, we accept them where they are at, without judging them or labeling them. They are our brothers and sisters going through rough times, and we are here to say that you are okay, and things will get better if you sincerely work at it. For many of them, we become their second family.”
Through the years, the residence has been a lifeline for 3,700 men and women. It has space for 10 people at a time, and usually all beds are filled. While the mission has not changed through the years, the need it addresses has increased.
“We’ve seen an increase, and also, we’ve seen that it takes a little longer for them to get some services,” said Brother Irénée. “There have been some cutbacks in some services, such as mental health and even in housing, the vouchers and so forth.”
He said the biggest increase has been in the number of women seeking assistance. This is why St. Martin de Porres Residence is working to open a separate building for women, which will be called the St. Catherine of Sienna Residence. If all goes according to plan, it will be located in the former St. André Group Home, which was operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec. Brother Irénée credits the sisters’ generosity, along with the support of some donors, for moving the project towards reality.
“It is from God. There is no doubt in my mind,” he said.
He hopes the St. Catherine of Sienna Residence will be able to open in December or January, and when it does, it will double capacity, allowing it to welcome 10 men in one residence and 10 women in the other.
Concelebrating the Mass with the bishop on Sunday were Fr. Timothy Nadeau, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish; Msgr. Marc Caron, the former pastor of the parish; and Fr. André Descôteaux, O.P., the prior provincial of the Province of St. Dominic in Canada.
Following the Mass, a fundraising concert for the St. Martin de Porres Residence was held at the Franco Center in Lewiston. For more information about how to help the residence with its mission, call 786-4690.