FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — It is likely that many from the south end of Fall River have attended a St. Anne’s Church mass and tried the spindle city original known as the chow mein sandwich.
But the group that organized to save and restore the nearly 113-year-old iconic piece of the city skyline never expected one to play a role with the other.
St. Anne’s Shrine Preservation Society Vice President Bob Gauvin said when he and his friend Richard Alfonso first heard the Fall River Diocese was going to close the church, they were determined to find a way to save it.
“We had to do something,” he said.
Dwindling attendance and issues with the structure prompted the diocese to close St. Anne’s last year, 112 years after the first mass in 1906.
The Fall River Diocese, which bought the building in the 70s for $1 from the Dominican Fathers of the Canadian Province, agreed to lease it to the preservation society for a buck a year for the next decade.
“We understand why it was closed,” Gauvin said. “We reopened the shrine [in the lower level] for prayer on July 4.”
But the majestic, main part of the church, closed in 2015 after plaster crumbled to the floor during a service remains closed to the public.
“This is where we get a lot of water,” Gauvin said walking to the back of the church where three of the church’s priests are interred. “The [100-year-old] roof will be our first major project.”
Gauvin said there is “absolutely” a concern that the priests’ final resting places are “threatened.”
Miracles are among the memories for parishioners, like Gauvin, whose great grandparents helped build the church.
He recalls a friend who asked a priest for help with polio during a healing mass in the 60s.
“And he said all I want is one good leg,” Gauvin said. “He’s in his 70’s today and he has one fully developed leg and one that isn’t developed at all. And that’s just one example. It’s a sacred place.”
In the same neighborhood, Mee Sum’s co-owner Kenny Mark has chopped so many onions over the past 50 years, he can do it blindfolded.
It was natural for the restaurant to donate a day of chow mein sandwich sales to help preserve St. Anne’s.
“It is so important to our customers and family,” Kenny’s wife Regina Mark said.
What they did not expect were lines out the door, 1,500 sold sandwiches and a $10,000 donation to the preservation society.
“We were surprised because we didn’t ask,” Gauvin said. “They just did it and we said ‘Wow.'”
Mark was also surprised.
“You couldn’t believe how many people came in here and said ‘Thank you,'” Regina Mark said. “And they’re so happy and so grateful. I hope with this, we can wake up everybody and more people will chip in.”
Gauvin is confident the preservation society will be able to raise enough to bring the luster back to St. Anne’s.
When Gauvin was asked how long he expects the copper-crowned blue marble twin towers to be part of the Fall River skyline?
“Five-hundred years,” he said with a smile.