SALEM — It didn’t take long for word to spread of the death of the Rev. George Dufour, the beloved longtime pastor of Ste. Anne Church.
Yesterday morning’s weekday Mass, which is usually attended by only a few parishioners, drew a crowd.
“People were coming up and showing me their snapshots of themselves and Father George,” said the Rev. Daniel Riley, pastor of the newly formed Salem collaborative. “These people were showing me moments in their lives where he had been there.”
Dufour, 73, a Maine native who had been pastor here for 21 years, died Wednesday morning at Salem Hospital following a long illness. He had been a patient in the intensive care unit for the past few weeks.
“He considered Ste. Anne’s his family,” said Diane Charette, administrative assistant at the traditionally French ethnic parish.
Once a year, Dufour said a Mass in French. This year was a rare exception when illness forced him to step aside.
Dufour also had close friends across the North Shore, including at some of its best-known dining establishments. He was a regular at Dube’s, a favorite among locals, and at the Grapevine, a downtown restaurant.
“He would order a meal, and then he’d ask for a clean plate,” said Charette. “He would share his meal with the wait staff.”
Dufour was a charismatic priest, who made friends easily, had a great laugh and was close to many families in the parish and outside, friends said.
“He was outgoing,” Charette said. “He brought people back to the church.”
When a parish reorganization took place this summer, part of the Archdiocese of Boston’s plan to organize parishes by clusters or collaboratives, Dufour and other impacted priests were asked to submit resignations.
Near retirement, he was given senior priest status in June. He still helped, however, at funerals and weddings at Ste. Anne’s.
“He dearly loved the people of Ste. Anne’s, and the feeling was mutual,” Riley said. “I think it was just a perfect fit.”
Dufour will lie in state Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue church. His funeral Mass is Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Ste. Anne’s.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.