Hundreds gather to bid final farewell to Father Thibodeau
CARIBOU, Maine — The Parish of the Precious Blood Holy Rosary Church parking lot was overflowing on Tuesday morning, with cars parked up and down surrounding roads, as hundreds gathered for the funeral service of Father Clement Thibodeau.
Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Catholic Diocese of Portland officiated the Mass, leading friends, family, and members of the church in prayer and song to celebrate the life of the 85-year-old priest, whose body was found a few days ago in a wooded area off a remote road in Hancock County.
A massive manhunt had failed to locate the priest who had been missing since July 15, when he apparently drove off alone from his home in Caribou. A man spotted the car while clearing trails near Upper Pistol Lake, south of Springfield, on Sept. 30 and wardens located the body a short distance away.
Officials with the state medical examiner’s office and Maine Warden Service indicated that while the exact cause of death could not be determined, there was “no obvious trauma” and the “manner of death was not deemed suspicious.”
Thibodeau “will be remembered throughout the diocese as a very gentle, very kind, and very good man,” said Father David Raymond of the Parish of the Precious Blood during a reception and wake for Thibodeau at the church on Monday.
“He helped so many people, and his memory will not be forgotten,” said Raymond, who added that Fr. Thibodeau spent much of his life helping those in recovery from substance abuse.
Thibodeau had struggled with his own demons, admitting several years ago that in 1980, his bishop ordered him to undergo treatment for alcoholism at the Guest House, a center in Michigan that treats clergy for substance abuse.
“He was an advocate of so many people, especially people in recovery,” Raymond said Monday. “He’s helped hundreds and, to me, that would be his greatest legacy.”
From Waterville and Bangor, all the way up to The County, Thibodeau impacted countless lives during his decades of service to the Catholic Church, according to Raymond and others who knew him.
His obituary states that Thibodeau served as pastor of St. Mary’s in Eagle Lake, Notre Dame in Waterville, St. Mary’s in Bangor and St. Joseph’s in Gardiner. He served as pastoral vicar at Cathedral Parish in Portland, Notre Dame in Springvale, and St. Mary’s in Lewiston, and served as chaplain at Nasson College in Springvale and Notre Dame Institute in Alfred. Thibodeau also spent 17 years as a teacher at St. Ignatius High School in Sanford, as well as teaching religious studies at Nasson College.
He retired in 2001 and moved back to the Caribou area, where he grew up, but continued to assist various parishes and priests when needed, according to the obituary.
“He was a sweet man,” recalled Jennie Faye of Connor Township, who grew up with Thibodeau and later became the manager of Rose Acres in Caribou, where the retired priest lived.
“On a day that wasn’t so good, I’d always say, ‘Father Thibodeau, can you think about me and say a little prayer for me?’” Faye recalled Monday at the wake.
“‘You know I will,’ he’d say. He’s a sweetheart and he’s going to be missed,” Faye said.
She added that she was glad the search for Thibodeau is over, and that the family can finally have closure.
“His nieces are the nicest girls, and this must have been a nightmare for them,” Faye said. “I’m glad this is at peace.”
Nancy and Tom Bancroft left their Saco home at 6 a.m. Monday to attend the reception and wake. Both knew Thibodeau since 1980, when they lived in China, Maine, and he became a pastor in Waterville.
Nancy Bancroft said that Thibodeau was “newly recovering,” having just returned from treatment in Michigan when they first met him at the Waterville church.
“I was a substance abuse counselor and Tom was recovering as well,” she said.
“I was fairly new myself,” Tom Bancroft added.
“We were people that he could trust,” Nancy Bancroft said. “He became a member of our home. He felt comfortable there. It was a place where he could be himself.
“He was extremely bright and very wise,” she added. “His greatest gift was that he knew how to heal souls. He just helped so many people through their guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. Whether they were Catholic or Protestant, it didn’t matter. He gave his life for that.”
“He was a wonderful man,” said Tom Bancroft.
Nancy Bancroft said that she and her husband remained close to Thibodeau throughout the years, and that they often spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with him, went on trips to Nova Scotia together, and that they appointed him to be the godfather of their children.
“He was an extended member of our family,” she said, “a very special man.”