Patricia Frechette of Saco looks through an album of information about the late Fr. Zenon Decary, who served in Biddeford, and, people say, performed healing miracles. Frechette is a member of the Friends of Fr. Zenon Decary group compiling and advancing knowledge about the priest. Tammy Wells Photo
SACO — It has been many years since Rev. Zenon Decary served in Biddeford, but the memories of the kindly, compassionate priest, who is said to have the ability to heal, continue on.
A local group, Friends of Father Zenon Decary is looking to ensure his name continues to resonate here — and beyond.
Patricia Frechette said Bishop Robert Deeley has given his approval for the friends group to continue to gather information about Fr. Zenon.
The Friends of Father Zenon Decary was first formed in 2008 after an effort in the 1990s to begin the process of beatification was unsuccessful. The membership of about a dozen people at its height has dwindled due to ill health and some members have passed away, but the desire to advance the knowledge of Fr. Zenon while continuing to collect information about his work, continues.
As a part of the drive to create awareness about the former Biddeford priest, displays featuring various aspects of his life and work will rotate through each church in the Good Shepherd parish, said Frechette.
Zenon Decary was born in St. Laurent, Quebec, Canada, in 1870. He died in Dorval, Quebec, in 1940.
He was ordained in 1894, and was called to Rome to study as a canon lawyer, Frechette said. Before he was able to complete those studies, he became ill and returned to Canada. He was assigned as an assistant pastor at St. Andre in Biddeford from 1902-1907, and later served in Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Fairfield and Augusta, among other Maine locales. He became ill again, and at some point returned to Biddeford to stay and recuperate with his brother, Monsignor Arthur Decary, who was pastor at St. Andrew at the time. He stayed until the fall of 1939, when he went home to Quebec and died in July of the following year.
Fr. Zenon Decary Courtesy Photo
Fr. Zenon was known as a priest who helped those who needed it, as was Arthur. In 1935, Fr. Zenon approached the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec about opening a home for unwed mothers, pledging $5,000 as a gift from him and his brother, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland — the first steps toward establishing St. Andre Home. The priests encouraged formation of a boys’ school in Biddeford Pool, which later became St. Francis College and later still, the University of New England.
In addition to the good works that affected large groups, there are also instances of Fr. Zenon helping individuals. For instance, in a 2013 Journal Tribune article by Dina Mendros, Rev. Renald Lebarre, who died a year ago, said his mother recounted that when Labarre was 16 months old, he accidentally ended up in a tub of scalding water. His mother rushed the boy to Webber Hospital and while a doctor was examining the infant, advised the family to call for a priest. Fr. Zenon Decary looked in on Labarre and told his mother not to be afraid, Labarre said.
“He told her I would be fine because God had a purpose for me,” Labarre said. “When my mother turned around, I was asleep and the healing process had begun.”
Labarre’s account is one of many that have come to the attention of the Friends of Father Zenon Decary group. Others are listed in a book about Decary’s life, published in 1948, entitled “The Good Father Zenon.”
Frechette has written four volumes about Fr. Zenon Decary, including his genealogy, his upbringing and how it influenced his life and character, and more. A fifth volume will encompass the miracles he performed that people have written about, she said.
The group hopes to further advance knowledge of Fr. Zenon through a website, and Frechette noted that word of the priest is making its way abroad — a Friends group member with family in the Philippines is spreading the word there.
The friends group continues its research and would like to create a museum about the priest.
Rev. Zenon Decary, who served in Biddeford, passed away in 1940. A group called Friends of Fr. Zenon Decary is working to advance knowledge of the priest. Courtesy Image
As for Frechette, she first heard about Fr. Zenon several years ago, was interested in what was said about him, and wanted to know more.
“It’s like I bit the fish hook,” she said. Other members of the group, she said, feel similarly.
“We can’t let go until the job is done,” she said.