[Editor’s Note: Most of the information given here is obtained from a series of articles written by Richard Fortin and translated into French by Michel Thibault for publication in LE JOURNAL DE LOWELL. The series ran from September 1994 to December 1995.]
With the great influx of French Canadians into the United States following the Civil War, Methodist Bishop James Malalieu (a French Protestant, native of Sutton, MA) recognized the opportunity to “Americanize” the “Romish French”.
In 1820 efforts were concentrated in Louisiana, Missouri and New York. Ten years later, given the fact that the French Canadians were literally pouring into the country, the Methodists concentrated their efforts in New England, Michigan, Illinois and New York. The “New England” section was established, headed by Bishop Malalieu, and New Hampshire became the principal mission field.
The first of the French Protestant churches in Lowell, Massachusetts was built in 1883 and to this day the building still stands at 55 Bowers Street. The following year, Rev. Calvin Eli Amaron, a French Canadian by birth, was named its pastor. He was 32 years old.
It did not take long for Amaron to conceive the idea of a college for boys and young men of French Canadian ancestry. On 18 July 1885 he had a meeting in the law offices of Marshall and Hamblet on Merrimack Street in Lowell. Exactly two months later a charter was issued for the French Protestant College whose purpose would be to educate young men and women following the norms of other schools and colleges in New England, with an emphasis on the formation of teachers, missionaries and pastors of the Protestant faith.
The French Protestant College opened, on the site of the church, on 27 October 1885. There were 25 students and 6 teachers. However, due to a lack of students and community support it barely survived the first two years.
In spite of this, in 1887 the school was offered $1000 toward a new building provided it could come up with another $15,000. A fund raising campaign was organized and much support and encouragement came from the Springfield, MA area. In addition to monetary support The French Protestant College of Lowell was offered the former original building of the Springfield Hospital, if it chose to relocate. The offer was accepted and the French Protestant College left Lowell for Springfield, Massachusetts. The name was changed and the school still exists today as the American International College.
In 1919 the Congregational pastors of Lowell sold the Bowers Street building to St. George Syrian Orthodox Church.
The second French Protestant church was founded on the other side of the Merrimack River in Centralville. In 1897 the Merrimack Manufacturing Company sold a parcel of land to the Lowell Baptist Union. A church was built at 49 Ennell Street, corner of West Sixth Street. Little else is known.
This building, sold in 1942 by the Lowell Baptist Union to the American Baptist Convention, still exists today and is known as the Peniel Spanish Christian Church. (composed: 5/05)