The beginnings and growth of a spiritual community are firmly grounded in the human environment which surrounds it. Time, place, and events give external form to the human striving for spiritual fulfillment.
The formation and development of a parish epitomize this coincidence of temporal circumstance with a reaching towards God. Just such a coincidence characterized the beginnings of our parish, St. Louis de France.
By the turn of the century, the Franco-American population of Lowell had grown substantial enough to have established enclaves on both sides of the Merrimack River. For the most part, these families gathered for Mass and the sacraments at St. Joseph’s Parish. However, crossing the river to attend Mass had become a hardship for the Franco-American residents of the Centralville section of Lowell. They were eager to worship God in the familiar surroundings of their daily lives.
A committee of twelve men took the first steps toward the realization of that dream (to have a parish for the Franco-American residents of the Centralville section of Lowell). In 1903, they received permission from the Archdiocese of Boston to initiate the movement for a parish of their own. Mr. John H. Beaulieu and Mr. Jacques Boisvert bought a parcel of land bounded by Ennell, West Sixth, and Victor Streets. Later that year, they donated a 20,000-square-foot section of the land to the Archdiocese as a site for their new parish church.
The Archdiocese soon assigned a pastor to the fledgling parish. Rev. J.N. Jacques came to St. Louis-de-France with 10 years’ experience in parish administration. Father Jacques was a gentle, pious man who gave his parishioners not only the sense of spiritual direction so important in those formative years, but also the firm practical guidance necessary for a solid parochial foundation.
He led St. Louis-de-France on an ambitious, vigorous building program over the next nine years. Within three weeks of his arrival in early 1904, Father Jacques supervised the construction of a temporary chapel on the corner of West Sixth and Boisvert Streets. He also bought the rectory, and in 1905, land which would become the sites for the school, convent, and parish hall.
Both Father Jacques and the parishioners of St. Louis-de-France considered it the function of the Church to transmit and instill the values of Christian life in the young. To meet the requirements of a Christian education, Father Jacques opened a bilingual primary school for his parishioners. The school would reinforce the values taught in the home, and make the children’s French heritage a continuing and active presence in their daily lives.
Father Jacques saw the goal of a Christian education through to its completion with the construction and opening of a new school in 1907. The Sisters of the Assumption, members of a teaching order from Nicolet, Quebec, came to form the first teaching staff, and are still the mainstays of a parochial education at St. Louis-de-France.
In 1909, Father Jacques completed his last construction project, a convent for the Sisters of the Assumption. He eagerly anticipated the beginnings of a new church to replace the temporary chapel. Before he could undertake this endeavor, Father Jacques died accidentally at the age of 50 in 1913.
During this time of testing for the parishioners of St. Louis-de-France, a new pastor, Rev. J.N. Labossiere arrived to assume the tasks left by Father Jacques with a renewal of life and vigor.
In 1914, Father Labossiere bought land adjoining the rectory. In 1917, he realized Father Jacques’ vision with the construction of a new church. In 1918, he extended the educational role of the parish by opening St. Louis Academy as a secondary school for young women. In 1921, he oversaw the building of a new rectory, and in 1924, enlarged the convent. In 1929, he began his final building project at St. Louis-de-France, a parish hall. When Father Labossiere was transferred to St. Joseph’s Parish in Salem in 1931, he left behind at St. Louis remarkable achievements in transforming the physical resources of the parish.
Throughout these vast physical changes, the members of St. Louis-de-France never lost sight of their true purpose in coming together as a parish. They remained faithful to the ideal of bearing witness to Christ in their daily lives and concern for one another. That fidelity to the Christian way of life sustained them through a series of administrative changes with several pastors for the next 18 years. Among them were Rev. J.H. Cote (1931), Rev. Remi Maynard (1933), Rev. F. Gauthier (1933), Rev. Simon P. Lonergan (1938), Rev. Charles Cordier (1940), and Rev. Antonio Vigeant (1946).
With the arrival of a new pastor in 1949, Rev. Georges J.C. Duplessis, members of St. Louis Parish looked to a future of stability and celebration. As the fiftieth anniversary of the parish drew near, Father Duplessis and the parishioners alike fixed upon the construction of a new church as a fitting way to mark the occasion. Several years of negotiations and hard work culminated in the consecration of a new parish church for St. Louis-de-France in 1955.
Joy once again permeated St. Louis Parish several years later when recognition of Father Duplessis’ contribution to our parish took tangible form. Father Duplessis became Monsignor Duplessis in 1961. However, the joy in the honor conferred on our pastor was short-lived. Little more than a year later, Monsignor Duplessis suddenly died.
At this critical moment, Rt. Rev. Alfred R. Julien came to St. Louis-de-France Parish. A profound transformation affected the Church in the modern world, reaching a climax in the Second Vatican Council. Monsignor Julien brought a keen sense of intelligence and strong leadership abilities to the task of shepherding his parishioners through these changes.
The transformation opened the Church to a wider role in its affairs by the laity. Revisions in the liturgy accommodated more active participation in the Mass and a deeper appreciation of the sacraments. At the same time, parishioners assumed greater responsibility not simply for maintaining their spiritual life, but for expanding it in the face of challenges presented by contemporary life.
The testimony to a Christian life continues today, and Monsignor Julien still guides our efforts. The growth of the religious education program, the presence of charismatic renewal among us, and the constant commitment to our parish schools represent at least a part of that testimony. A thread of continuity runs between the founders of St. Louis-de-France and its present parishioners. Like our predecessors, we have found ways to worship and live together, and to continuously maintain and renew our Christian life. It is perhaps the single most important tradition we can observe in our Jubilee Year, and the legacy we can best transfer to those who will celebrate our centenary.
(Above by Suzanne Dion, from the Souvenir Booklet of the 75th Anniversary Museum Committee)
Suzanne Dion, in her history of Saint Louis de France Parish as taken from the Souvenir Booklet of the Museum Committee on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the parish, states, “A thread of continuity runs between the founders of St. Louis-de-France and its present parishioners. Like our predecessors, we have found ways to worship and live together, and to continuously maintain and renew our Christian life. It is perhaps the single most important tradition we can observe in our Jubilee Year, and the legacy we can best transfer to those who will celebrate our centenary.”
25 years later, we who celebrate the centenary are grateful for the legacy that has been transferred to us – a legacy of finding “ways to worship and live together, and to continuously maintain and renew our Christian life.”
Following Monsignor Julien’s retirement in 1981, Father Rene Dufour was appointed Pastor for Saint Louis de France Parish. Despite his own illness and physical limitations, Father Dufour is best remembered for his pastoral care for the elderly and the sick. During this time, Father Dufour supported Bernard R. Lemoine’s efforts to establish the “Veterans of Saint Louis” – the first Catholic veterans organization in Massachusetts.
Father Robert Soucy succeeded Father Dufour as Pastor. Father Soucy, who is remembered as the last priest to give a homily in French, provided the motivation for a renewal in the music ministry when he called upon Raymond Chandonnet to cantor at various Masses and to start a choir.
The music ministry continued to grow during the pastorate of Father Richard Matte. The roots of the present Children’s Choir can be traced to a project by Denise Frechette and Sister Jeanne Frechette, S.A.S.V. The project emerged as they worked toward certification as Master Teachers certificate. The Frechette sisters had to create a project that would involve both the children who attend the school and the religious education children. The project was the Christmas Pageant Liturgy that continues to this day. After working with the children for Christmas, Sister Jeanne and Denise thought it a good idea to have the children participate in the Sunday Liturgies. The Children’s Choir started singing twice a month and in the blink of an eye, they were singing every weekend. The innocence of the children’s voices and the simplicity of their songs helped all present to pray. In addition to the Children’s Choir and Adult Choir, the parish is blessed with a third group. The present Folk Group was organized in 1988.
The end of the Mass celebrated entirely in French came during the pastorate of Father Richard Matte when Father Roger Jacques, Associate Pastor, was reassigned. The bilingual Mass filled the void for those who desired to maintain their cultural identity through the use of the French language. Through the use of French in the Second Reading, half of the Prayers of the Faithful, and several of the hymns, the bilingual Mass continues to fill this void even today.
The presence of the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in parish life also contributes to the ethnic nature of Saint Louis de France Parish. They have played and continue to play an important part in the life of this parish. Many people recall Father Matte’s “Adopt-A-Nun” campaign to renovate the convent. The generous response to this campaign gave witness to the important place the Sisters of the Assumption held in many people’s lives.
This time period also marked a time of sadness for the Sisters of the Assumption. Saint Louis Academy, opened in 1918 at the urging and encouragement of Father Labossiere, became part of the new Lowell Catholic High School in 1991 as arranged by authorities in the Archdiocese of Boston. Another sign that this was a time of mergers and consolidations. The Lowell and Dracut Collaboratives were established in the early 1990s to explore issues that these neighboring parishes faced together. This was but a foreshadowing of what would come in 2003-2004.
On June 24, 1993 the venerable old Paroisse Saint Jean-Baptiste in downtown Lowell, founded in 1867, came to a close. Their parishioners were invited to join neighboring parishes. Many joined St. Louis de France Parish. The parish welcomed them to their new spiritual home. Their gift to us was the statue of Saint Jean-Baptiste – la statue miraculeuse – that survived the great church fire of 1911. We are proud to have this statue of the Lord’s precursor and patron saint of the French since medieval times grace our sanctuary. Many of the parishioners have become active in both parish and school activities.
After a brief six months with Father Brian Kiely as Administrator, Father John Gallagher and Father Leonard Pelletier were assigned to Saint Louis de France Parish as a Team Ministry. They came as an experienced team, having served together for 18 years at Saint Joseph Parish in Lynn. Father Gallagher’s interest in the health ministries led to the beginning of the Raphael Health Care Ministry. Father Pelletier was best known for his presence to the school students, support of the Scouting programs, and interest in liturgy. Their varied interests made them a good team.
The public disclosure of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2001 had a tremendous impact on Catholic Church in America, the Archdiocese of Boston, and Saint Louis de France Parish. People were horrified at the scope of the problem and the inadequate ways employed to deal with the problem. The end result was a widening chasm between many Catholics and the hierarchy of the Church. The trust that was destroyed as a result of this scandal will take years, decades, and even generations to repair.
Father Pelletier’s departure in the fall of 2002 led to 3 months during which the priests of the neighboring Saint Michael Parish were generous in their service to Saint Louis de France Parish. Father Robert Kelleher came from the Emergency Response Group of the Archdiocese to serve the parish until May of 2003 when his health deteriorated requiring him to leave. Father Scott Euvrard, also from the Emergency Response Group, arrived on June 1, 2003.
It was in the spring of 2003 that the collaborative work done in the early 1990’s by the Lowell and Dracut Collaboratives was called upon as a foundation for a new call to “reconfigure” the parishes of this area. June 2004 was set as the deadline for the presentation of a plan that would result in a significant restructuring of the Catholic parishes in this area. All clusters and collaboratives within the Archdiocese of Boston are now part of this process. Saint Louis de France Parish has participated in the reconfiguration process. We now await the decisions of Archbishop Sean O’Malley
In 2003, the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin celebrated the 150th anniversary of their community’s founding and a 96-year relationship with Saint Louis de France Parish. Today, after 96 years of devoted service to Saint Louis School, the sisters still retain the administrative leadership of the school and are active in classroom teaching.
When Vatican II opened the doors of the convent, that same Council energized the sisters of Saint Louis Parish to meet new life challenges with creativity, resourcefulness and a forceful dependence on God. Their dwindling number, the rising cost of living, and the retirement of so many sisters may change certain community features but hardly affects their reliance upon the Spirit to keep alive the charism of Faith in Divine Providence and dedication to education that characterizes the 150-year history of the Sisters of the Assumption.
Archbishop Sean O’Malley appointed Father Euvrard as Administrator of the parish on December 1, 2003.
Saint Louis de France Parish, 1904-2004, 100 years of worshiping and living together, a century of continuously maintaining and renewing our Christian life, 100 years of fidelity to the Church, Franco-American Heritage, and dedication to progress in Lowell!
The parish received a letter dated June 25, 2004 from Archbishop Sean O’Malley informing us of his intention to close Saint Louis de France Parish. In the letter Archbishop Sean said, “In order to serve the needs of the people of the Archdiocese, and having heard the counsel of laity and priests, it is clear that the mission of the Church in Lowell can be best achieved by the reconfiguration of the present parochial resources.”
On August 10, 2004, Archbishop Sean O’Malley decreed that Saint Louis de France Parish be closed at 12:00 Noon on August 26, 2004. In the decree, he acknowledged the great legacy of service Saint Louis de France Parish provided to the French speaking community over the years. Although the Archbishop ended the mission of Saint Louis de France Parish, Saint Louis de France School will continue.
The parish celebrated its last weekend Masses on August 21 and 22 and held a parish picnic on Sunday. The final activities as a parish took place on August 25 – the Feast of Saint Louis de France. Those activities included morning Mass and breakfast as well as Evening Prayer and open house at the rectory. At 12:00 noon on August 26, Saint Louis de France Parish ended its 100+ years of service in the Archdiocese of Boston.