BREWER (BDN) -- The first priest of Saint Joseph’s Church in Brewer, Father Thomas Moriarty, served the community from the mid-1920s until his death in 1969. He is remembered by his parishioners as a man devoted to the church and his holy mission on Earth. And some people believe that his spirit lingers, watching over the church and keeping people in line.
Whispers of this haunting began immediately after Moriarty’s death and continue to intrigue the church’s parishioners and local residents to this day.
The story starts in October 1926, when St. Joseph’s Church was constructed at the corner of Holyoke Street and North Main Street in Brewer. Moving to Brewer from a parish in Woodland in Washington County, Moriarty became the church’s first priest and took up residence in the rectory, a stately building with 13 rooms directly across Holyoke Street from the church.
“Father Moriarty was not a very pleasant man, that I remember,” said Frank Gallant, 74, of Brewer, who grew up attending St. Joseph’s Church while Moriarty was the priest. “He was a very strict man, to me.”
Gallant remembers attending mass at the Catholic church when he was 6 years old and being scolded by Moriarty for talking to his friend Patrick during the service.
“He hauled me up on the altar and made me sit on the altar rail all through mass, and I cried my eyes out,” Gallant said.
It also didn’t help that Gallant could rarely say his confession correctly. Sometimes Moriarty would make Gallant confess up to four times before he could leave the sanctuary.
Gallant’s memories of Moriarty coincide with how the priest was described by local residents in the 2013 book “Maine Ghosts & Legends” by Tom Verde. In the book, some residents “confessed to being frightened of him” while others “understood that he was actually a very caring, kind and humble man.”
After Moriarty passed away in 1969, peculiar things started to happen in the rectory, where Moriarty had lived for so many years.
Father Richard Rice, who served under Moriarty, was in the sitting room of the rectory just days after Moriarty’s death when he heard footsteps on the floor above him, in what was once Moriarty’s bedroom, according to “Maine Ghosts & Legends.” He went up to the room where the noise was coming from and found no one.
Over the next several years, strange things continued to happen in the house. Drawers would open and close by themselves, according to the book, and people continued to hear footsteps in empty rooms.
In the 1970s, St. Joseph’s Church moved to a new building at 531 North Main St., and the old church on Holyoke Street became St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. The rectory also moved, and the old rectory was purchased by a family that reported experiencing inexplicable noises, including footsteps and banging, according to Verde. The family moved out in 1980, and today, the old rectory is a boarding house.
“Every once in awhile, I’ll talk to some of the residents and ask them [if they’ve had any ghostly experiences],” said Mary Ann Perry, organist at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. “And they haven’t. So we’ve decided [Moriarty] has moved back over here.”
Sitting in the sanctuary of the old church on Oct. 21, Perry said that members of the church often joke about Moriarty’s ghost being responsible for misplaced items or strange sounds.
“Maybe we have a guardian angel here, keeping us on track even though he is Catholic,” said Perry, laughing.
If Moriarty’s spirit has indeed moved from the old rectory to the church, his modus operandi for haunting remains the same.
The vestry — the church’s governing body — was recently having a meeting in the church’s finished basement, Perry said, and they heard a distinct pounding on the wall. But when they went upstairs to investigate, no one was there.
On another recent occasion, Perry’s husband, Pete Perry, was working in the church office when he heard what sounded like footsteps on the carpet running between the pews in the sanctuary, just outside the office door.
“It was kind of squeaky, muffled,” Mary Ann Perry said.
He walked out of the office and into the sanctuary, but no one was there.
“So he went back into the office and he sat back down,” Perry said. “And he heard the walking on the carpet again. And this time, he tuned into it to analyze [that] no, it’s not coming from outside. No, it’s not downstairs
“He came out, and there was nobody here,” Perry said. “So, he said, ‘That’s Father Moriarty.’”