The Kennebunk River divides Kennebunk and Kennebunkport and enjoys a busy and vibrant shoreline on both sides. Marina’s, shops and restaurants stretch from the bridge in Dock Square all the way down to the Breakwater. However, stand on the Kennebunkport side and look across the water and you’ll see acres of undeveloped shore lands. This 66 acre ‘park-like’ piece of land in Kennebunk is home to the Franciscan monks and St Anthony’s Monastery.
In the 1700’s, this area was originally farmland. The first ‘settler’ was John Mitchell who bought 200 acres of land and built a farmhouse on it. He was a Christian Professor and in those days there was a lot of tension between the Indians native to the area and the Christian colonists. In 1744 a statue was erected on the site for Saint Tekakwitha, the daughter of a Mohawk Indian chief, who was stoned by her people for her catholic faith.
In 1906, the Roger’s family from NY purchased the land, building a 6,000 square foot Tudor mansion called Fairfields. In addition to the impressive home, he had the grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead Brothers who are well known for having also designed gardens in Central Park, the Boston Commons, the White House and Capital Building in Washington DC.
The property remained the summer retreat for the Roger’s family until it was sold in 1937. Following a brief 10 year ownership by the daughter of a Maine textile baron, the property was sold to the Society of Franciscan Fathers of Greene, Maine. Franciscan Father Justinas Vaskys from Lithuania came to Kennebunk and first established the monastery in the name of St Anthony. While a number of Grotto’s and Chapels have been erected over the years throughout the grounds with a Lithuanian style, the Monastery remains in the original Tudor from the home first built there more than 100 years ago.
Today, the Friars still reside at the Monastery which is open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Paths run along the river and you can enjoy the outdoor shrines, grotto’s and gardens – pick up a “Walking tour of the shines” map to guide your way. Mass is held weekdays at 7:30am, Saturday at 8am and Sundays at 8am, 10am and 11:15am. They also have Mass on Wednesday and Friday at 7:30pm. Dogs and bicycles are not permitted. Access is off of Beach Road and there is ample parking.
If you’re here for the first weekend of Christmas Prelude, enjoy the tree lighting in Lower Village and then walk down to the Monastery. The friars open the grounds for a very special Candlelight Caroling at the Our Lady of Lourdes outdoor cathedral. It’s a beautiful way to enjoy the spirit of Christmas.
Whatever time of year, this is a perfect place to walk, rest, reflect or pray.