Who We Are
About the Franco Center:
We are Le Centre D’Heritage Franco-Americain. The Franco American Heritage Center in Lewiston, ME, USA.
We believe history and heritage are action verbs, just like community and neighbor. We practice these by engaging members of our community young and old to share their experiences and traditions, so we might all benefit from them.
We’re a performing arts organization that celebrates our Franco-American Heritage; a legacy handed to us by generations of our brave ancestors who relocated here from France, from Quebec, and from all across the globe. We present the best in symphonic music, solo instrumentalists, chorales and choirs, and contemporary music. We have a wildly successful theme night series, as well as more informal nightclub performances.
Founded in the year 2000, the FAHC is a 501©3 non profit organization governed by a 15 member volunteer Board of Directors. Twenty five percent (25%) of all programming is of a French nature in order to preserve and keep the rich culture, traditions, music, cuisine, language and heritage alive and to celebrate the “Joie de Vivre” spirit of the Franco-Americans.
The Franco Center takes its residence in the former St. Mary’s Church located by the canal and the landmark Simard Payne (Railroad) Park in the area of downtown Lewiston known as Riverfront Island. Our spire is one of the tallest sights as you drive in to town.
While no longer used as a place of worship, the reverence we have for our home and its original use is evident, from the preserved stained glass and original architectural elements, down to the way we approach our work here.
To date, an ongoing Capital Campaign has raised 6 million dollars to restore and transform the beautiful 104 year old Gothic style building into a state-of-the-art 450 seat Performing Arts Center, a Heritage Museum, a French Library, and a Multi-Purpose Function Hall. Both levels are used for concerts, dances, workshops, weddings, speakers, banquets, educational programs, and much more. It has become one of Lewiston/Auburn’s greatest community assets.
In the 1860s, the first French-speaking Canadian migrants came to Lewiston-Auburn to work in the textile mills & shoe shops. In 1907 many arrived at the Grand Trunk Railroad Depot on Lincoln Street in Lewiston where they settled in an area known to this day as ‘Little Canada’. In the same year, St. Mary’s Parish was established in the Little Canada neighborhood. The parish served its new residents and became an important focal point for the population.
St. Mary’s Church located on Oxford Street was the third oldest Catholic Church in Lewiston. The beautiful Gothic church started construction i n 1907 in response to the large influx of Canadians who came to work in Lewiston’s mills. Although still not completed, the church held its first mass on Christmas Day in 1927/ In 1930, a Boston newspaper published a photo of St. Mary’s and judged it to be the most beautiful Church in New England. the Church was built in a neighborhood of Lewiston still affectionately known as “Little Canada”. Until the day it closed, the church continued to hold masses in both English and French. The first Canadians setled in Lewiston-Auburn in the 1860′s. Today about 80% of Maine’s Franco population lives within a 50-mile radius of Lewiston-Auburn. An estimated three-quarter of Franco-Americans of this area has been baptized or married in the church, or attended school at St. Mary’s.
At one time, St. Mary’s Parish was a thriving and well-attended church. However, with the decline of the industries that encouraged families to populate the neighborhood, the church began to suffer financially. The Catholic Diocese of Portland announced that it would be closing St. Mary’s as of July 1st, 2000. Many people in the community wanted to preserve this symbol of Franco-American culture. After closing St. Mary’s Church, the Franco-American Heritage Center was established as a performing arts and cultural facility.