The opening of the Moody Street Bridge in September of 1896 linked the Pawtucketville section of Lowell with Little Canada and encouraged residential development across the Merrimack River. Within a few years there was a noticeable presence of French Canadians in Pawtucketville and it was frequently referred to as “le Haut Canada”.
Not only would these families cross the bridge to attend church services at St-Jean-Baptiste Church, but the children also traveled the same route to attend St-Joseph School. Consequently in 1910, Fr. Joseph Campeau, OMI, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, which included both St- Jean-Baptiste church on Merrimack Street and St. Joseph’s Church on Lee Street, obtained permission to build a parish school for first graders on Fourth Avenue in Pawtucketville.
The establishment of the school gave rise to the hope of establishing a French parish in Pawtucketville and in January of 1913 a meeting was held at the Pawtucketville Social Club to discuss this issue. The force behind this movement included: Walter-J. Alexander, Oliva Brunelle, Charles-R Daoust, Rodrigue Descheneaux, L.-C. Gélinas, Joseph Harvey, Joseph-E. Lambert, Urcisse Larue, Alfred Leblanc, Spiridon Lippé, Louis-Napoléon Milot, Joseph-F. Montminy, Joseph Payette, Adélard Rivet, Delphis Robert, Elisée Rochette, Josephat Sawyer, Arthur St. Hilaire, James St-Hilaire, Frédéric Thériault and Rosaire Tourangeau.
As a result, an official request was made by the faithful to Cardinal O’Connell in October of 1915 for the establishment of a French language parish in Pawtucketville.
It was not until December of 1920 that the Cardinal issued his positive decision. The news however was received with mixed emotions. Up until now the Oblates of Mary Immaculate had tended to the parishioners’ needs from St. Joseph Parish. The Cardinal’s decision, as he informed Fr. J.-B. Labossière, pastor of St-Louis-de-France Church in the Centralville section of Lowell, was to establish a French parish under the direction of the diocesan clergy. This would be done by adding a chapel to the Fourth Avenue School. As it turned out the Cardinal quickly realized that he did not have enough French-speaking diocesan priests to accomplish this mission and therefore turned to the Oblates. Fr. Eugène Turcotte, OMI completed the chapel in honor of Ste-Jeanne d’Arc in March of 1921 and the following month celebrated the first Mass. By decree of Cardinal O’Connell, Ste-Jeanne d’Arc officially became a parish on 30 December 1922. The following year a house on White Street was acquired and served as rectory for the pastor, Fr. Léon Lamothe and his assistants, Fr. Charles Dénizot and Fr. Aurélien Mercil. A permanent church on a parcel of land bordered by Avon, White and Mt. Hope Streets and Fourth Avenue was completed in 1927. The parish continued to grow and in the early 1990s the church underwent a substantial refurbishing, inside and out.
In 2004 the parishioners of Ste-Jeanne d’Arc were dealt a stunning blow when officially informed that their debt-free, seemingly thriving parish, was one of the six of Lowell’s 13 parishes slated for suppression. As a result of the reconfiguration by the Archdiocese of Boston, this last church in the city to offer Masses in French: every other day during the week and one every Sunday with a French choir, celebrated its last Mass in August of 2004 and its parishioners were encouraged to become part of St. Rita’s Parish.
This was a stunning blow to many since it seemed that the debt-free Ste- Jeanne d’Arc Parish had physical facilities superior to St. Rita prompting a group of concerned parishioners headed by Atty Joseph Clermont assisted by then Mayor Armand Mercier, Lisa Gattinella and Henri Marchand to effect a repeal of this decision by appealing to the Vatican and then directly to Pope Benedict XVI. According to an article in The Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston dated July 15, 2011, “the Holy Father refused to intervene in the decision of the regular Vatican judicial process” and the Vatican authorized the Archbishop of Boston to move forward and “relegate to profane use” the former Ste-Jeanne d’Arc church.