Our story begins over 2000 years ago with a young Jewish girl living in a town in the rural Roman province of Galilee. Today that land is part of the modern-day nation of Israel. Her Hebrew name is Miriam, but in English she is known as Mary. There is little reliable historical information about her. What all Christians everywhere believe about Mary is that God sent a messenger to her with a special task: to give birth to the Messiah, who was coming to be the Redeemer of the world. And she said yes.
Our story continues in 1889 with a young girl from Portland, Maine. Her name is Alida Greely Brown, and she is the daughter of General John Marshall Brown and Alida Carroll Brown. Sadly, the young Alida died while studying abroad in Switzerland. She had only lived for 18 years. In 1890, General and Mrs. Brown erected a private memorial chapel on their rural estate in Falmouth Foreside in honor of their beloved Alida. They named this chapel after the other young girl who is known today as Saint Mother the Virgin, the Mother of God (Theotokos, the God-bearer).
The history of Falmouth helps to elucidate the evolution of both the beautiful structure and the character of Saint Mary’s. Falmouth was incorporated in 1718 as a town that included all of what is now Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and parts of Westbrook. The other communities separated later in that century and in the early 19th century. While Portland grew into a city, Falmouth remained a farming community. In the late 19th century, several large estates were built in the Foreside area, and that part of town became a summer community along the shores of Casco Bay.
The Memorial Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin was inspired by the Norman Church of Saint Mary’s in Iffley in Oxfordshire, England. General Brown also selected the site of their chapel with care: the chapel was orientated so that the sun will shine through the East window above the altar on the morning of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary which occurs every year on March 25.
At that time, the whole chapel consisted of what is now the sacristy and the chancel, with the simplest carved wooden altar set under the stained glass windows that had been designed and executed by Henry Holiday. The chapel became used regularly in the summers for worship. In 1902, General Brown added the central Norman tower, in memory of his mother, father and daughter. During those early days, the summer congregation was composed of relatives, friends of the Brown family and “summer people”. The choir was made up of volunteers recruited from the family and a few talented friends. They sat round the small, reed organ. The General died in 1907, and Mrs. Brown in 1911. Today, the remains of these three people are preserved in the crypt under the altar: General John Marshall Brown, his wife Alida Carroll Brown, and their daughter Alida Greely Brown.
Before her death, Mrs. Brown perceived the need for a Rectory and provided for the building of that structure in her will. The present English Rectory was finished and blessed in August 1915.
As Falmouth grew, so did Saint Mary’s. Falmouth became a year-round community. 1914 saw the first year of continuous worship and in 1927, Saint Mary’s was organized and admitted as a Parish within the Diocese of Maine. Following World War II, the town grew rapidly and with it, the parish as well. Saint Mary’s became a central focus in the life of Falmouth as General Brown had meant it some day to be. The Nave was built in 1949 and now seats from 150-180 people. Its stained glass and furnishings were carefully chosen to inspire quiet meditation as well as joyous celebrations. The Cassavant tracker organ, donated in 1979 by General Brown’s grandson, is placed in the loft with space for the choir.
During the past two decades, parishioners and friends have been making individually-designed needlepoint kneelers for each chair in the church. Designs from the kneelers have been drawn from the Old and New Testaments and include depictions of ancient crosses and many saints.
The shingled Parish House was, like the church, built in stages. The first building was dedicated in 1937 and additions were constructed in 1950 and 1964. With the 2012 renovations, one section of the building was demolished and a new administrative wing and Chapel have been built on the west side. The Auditorium was thoroughly renovated. This is used for large meetings and functions, while the Guild Room serves as a location for many small group meetings.
Honoring Our Faith: Enriching Our Community
Generations have given extraordinary time and treasure to ensure that the Brown’s legacy has been preserved by tending both buildings and gardens throughout the years. In 2010, Saint Mary’s undertook a capital campaign and building project to ensure that this legacy is passed on to those who come after us.
The $3 million Legacy Project responded to critical needs in all three campus buildings: the Church, Rectory and Parish House, as well as to needs in the Churchyard, parking areas and general grounds. Saint Mary’s broke ground on this ambitious project in June 2012 and completed the project in 2013. These improvements were designed to ensure that Saint Mary’s spaces and grounds will be safe, efficient and accessible and will meet the needs of our youth and our community – both within and beyond our gates – for generations to come. We strongly believe that this is exactly what our forebears, beginning with General and Mrs. Brown, had in mind for this parish community known as Saint Mary’s.