Dover's Father Paul Gregoire Celebrates 50 Years As Priest

By Brian Dekoning
Union Leader (Manchester NH)
June 9, 2005

DOVER — Two years ago, Roman Catholic priest Paul Gregoire didn't know if he'd say Mass again anywhere, let alone in St. Charles Boromeo, the church he's led for 12 years and where he decided as a boy to devote his life to God.

As Gregoire approaches a celebration Sunday for his 50th year as an ordained priest, including 16 years in Manchester's St. John the Baptist and several other posts in the state, he says he isn't bitter that a false accusation nearly cost him not only his livelihood and life's calling, but his very identity in 2002 and 2003.

"I have no resentment or ill feeling," Gregoire said. "Things happen for a reason, so it didn't shake my faith or my confidence in the church. We all have to go through trials and tribulations. Being a priest is no different."

The soft-spoken Gregoire, 76, a Dover native born at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital and raised on Sunday Mass in the traditionally French-Canadian St. Charles, did not fit the part of a rebel fighting the diocese for his survival. Father Paul to parishioners, he is known for his easy-going nature and sense of humor, friends say.

At home in the St. Charles rectory, Gregoire is quick to laugh or crack a joke at the 10 a.m. kitchen table coffee break he has each day with nephew and parish jack-of-all trades Tom Hardy and bookkeeper/housekeeper Marie Twombly.

On a recent morning when Gregoire left the coffee break for a phone call, Hardy, 59, summed up his earliest memories of Gregoire by saying, "He was special."

"He was always different, in a good way. A very likable personality, non-intimidating and very fun to be around. Of course, I wouldn't ever tell him that," Hardy said.

Retired priest Gerry Auger, who served in Pinardville and was ordained with Gregoire, calls him a very close friend. He described Gregoire as a soft-spoken man with a tender heart.

"Something that I admire about him is his persistence," Auger said."As you know, he fought his expulsion from the diocese and dealt directly with the Vatican — and he won."

The false accusation that Gregoire sexually abused a girl while serving as a priest in Seattle in the 1970s was found not to be credible by the Vatican in 2003, but not before Gregoire was suspended and stripped of his priestly duties for nine months. That was a time he spent in relative exile in a Manchester apartment while his story was told across the state in newspapers and on television.

"When I was suspended, I had a certain tension, an anxiety whether I was going to make it or not." He added, "You worry about how people are relating to you when you go anywhere and you become kind of a source of interest. You feel uneasy, uncomfortable knowing that."

The suspension came at a time when church officials were under fire for an apparent pattern stretching back decades of ignoring complaints about alleged priest misconduct. Although the complaint against him was later proved to be baseless, Gregoire was swiftly suspended Dec. 13, 2002.

"It happened almost overnight," Gregoire said. "I was told to leave the parish within a couple days, to just get out."

It wasn't until the Vatican stepped in that Gregoire was allowed to return as the priest of St. Charles and move back in to the rectory. Parishioners welcomed him with rousing applause when he said his first Mass after returning in August 2003.

But Gregoire, who is 10 years beyond the 40-year service needed for state priests to retire, said the nine-month saga shouldn't define his 50-year career.

"I just came back and picked up where I left off," he said. "It didn't derail my priesthood or anything."

After growing up in Dover and finishing St. Charles Grammar School in 1943, Gregoire attended Assumption Prep School in Worcester, Mass., before heading to St. Mary Seminary and University in Baltimore in 1949 to begin his training as a priest.

He was ordained June 4, 1955, at St. Mary's and also earned the equivalent of a master's degree in sacred theology. The priesthood, the Roman Catholic church and society have changed a great deal since, he said.

"I said Mass in Latin for 10 years with my back to the people," he said.

Changes in the 1960s changed Mass to the native language of parishes, brought altars closer to the people and had priests say Mass while facing parishioners.

Gregoire said there was also more societal acceptance of someone studying for the priesthood then, one factor he said could account for the declining number of priests.

"We were 14 (candidates) ordained in that year compared to this year, when we had two."

He added later, "I think it's also due to a decline in large families, a decline in church attendance. There is also a loss of the sacred things in life, of a certain sacredness. Now, spiritual things don't mean what they used to mean."

After being ordained, Gregoire spent the next 22 years teaching at seminaries in California, Baltimore and Seattle.

With the Catholic church in America facing a shortage of priests, Gregoire returned to New Hampshire in 1977 to head a parish in Berlin and served at St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester in 1978. After a three-year stint in Hanover at St. Dennis, Gregoire was the priest for St. John the Baptist in Manchester from 1982 until 1993, when he came back to St. Charles, a bit like a childhood baseball fan being traded to his favorite team as a pro.

"St. Charles was a wonderful return," Gregoire said. "Coming back to my roots and the community that nurtured my vocation was perhaps one of the greatest satisfactions of my life."

St. Charles parish will hold a celebration in honor of Gregoire's 50 years as an ordained priest Sunday at 3 p.m. when he says a Mass of thanksgiving in the church. A reception will follow in the church gathering area.


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