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French Immigrants Arrive

During this period, the first French-Canadian immigrant arrived in Lowell. In Canada, the plight of the farmer was overwhelming. The lack of roads to get produce to market, the difficulty in obtaining crown lands, the dividing of existing farms, plus the precarious nature of industry in the cities, the few factories and the lowering salaries in Canada compared to their rise in the United States, all contributed to the need to emigrate.

In 1841, Louis Bergeron arrived in Lowell and was followed in 1845 by Alarie Mercier. By 1852, Joseph Miller, Paul Lesieur, Edouard Courchene, Pierre and Luc Viau, Joseph Dufresne, M. Gobeil and Narcisse Remy had also arrived. Most of these men lived in a lodging house on Middlesex Street behind the Richardson Hotel, and worked in the lumber yards on Middlesex Street. Unlike Bergeron, a blacksmith, they were mostly carpenters, drawn here by the intense building activity. Immigration gradually increased, but the first wave which had begin in 1841 ended in 1861 with the beginning of the Civil War, as Lowell slumped into an economic depression. However, among the small Franco-American population, patriotic fervor ran high and of the 10 Franco-American volunteers from Lowell in the Northern armies, three gave their lives for the Union.

With the end of the war, prosperity burst on the horizon. The mills, carpet factories and machine shops clamored for help. Mill agents traveled throughout the Province of Quebec sowing everywhere brilliant descriptions of the salaries and the jobs to be had in New England’s mills.

In 1865, several manufacturing companies of Lowell hired Samuel P. Marin to visit his native province of Quebec in search of labor for Lowell’s mills.

In Lowell, as their number increased, the Franco-Americans began thinking of their religious situation. The Catholic church in Quebec was the center of daily life and activity. The immigrants, understanding and speaking English with difficulty, wanted a priest of their own nationality who could speak and understand French.

At this time, the problem of the spiritual welfare of the French-Canadians in Massachusetts greatly worried Bishop Williams of Boston. From 1866 to 1868, the FrancoAmerican population of the diocese of Boston doubled. Bishop Williams wanted to settle a French priest in Lowell who could also minister to the needs of those in Lawrence, Haverhill, Marlboro, etc. At the consecration of the cathedral of Burlington in 1867, he met the provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Canada and asked him to send missionaries to Lowell to found a French parish.