[Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in THE BELVIDERE NEWS, Lowell, MA, July 2004, p.3. We are grateful to Dora St. Martin for allowing us to reproduce it for our readers.]
HISTORIC LEAVES by Dora St. Martin
One of the most noted Franco-Americans in Lowell was Belvidere resident Joseph Henri Guillet (1853-1931).
Joseph Henri Guillet
“Mr. J. H. Guillet, of 262 Wentworth Avenue, entertained the Lowell group of L’Alliance Française very pleasantly at his home last night. The ultimate object of the group is to secure, if possible, French lecturers for Lowell … and to further the movement, several people interested in French literature had been invited to be present past night. During the evening Miss Blanche Dextra sang Nevins’ Rosary, and Beach’s Chanson d’Amour, Miss Laura Chabot being her accompanist. The music followed an interesting talk given by Mr. Guillet.”
The Honorable Joseph Henri Guillet was one of the most eminent residents of Lowell, honored on three different occasions by Popes, and foremost for many years among the civic leaders of the Franco-American community in the city.
Born in 1853, at Marieville, Québec, Joseph Henri left his studies at the Seminary of Sainte Marie at the age of sixteen and enlisted in the Pontifical Zouaves regiment in Rome. Helping defend the Vatican City against the army of King Victor Emmanuel II in September of 1870, he was wounded and taken as a prisoner at Leghorne, Italy. After his release, he made his way back to Canada and later immigrated to Fall River.
In 1877, Mr. Guillet moved to Lowell and gained prominence as a community organizer and Lowell’s first Franco-American lawyer and Justice of the Peace. In 1881 he organized the first French evening school in the city serving 400 adult students. In 1884 he was a founder of “L’Abeille,” the first Franco-American daily newspaper to be published in the United States. Mr. Guillet was a charter member of the Franco-American Orphanage (now the Franco-American School) and later became its secretary and director. He was a founder of the C.M.A.C., and a founder and director of the Caisse Populaire Jeanne d’Arc (now the Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union). He was a member of the District Court of the United States, the American Bar Association and the Lowell Board of Trade.
Mr. Guillet married Clara Chabot of Haverhill in 1898 (his first wife, Leah, died in 1895). In 1901, the Guillets purchased a splendid Queen Anne and Colonial Revival style home on Wentworth Avenue.
For his love of the Catholic Church and his work in fostering Catholic schools, Mr. Guillet was made a Chevalier Commander of the Order of Saint Sylvester by Pope Leo XIII. The investment ceremony was held at St. Patrick’s Church in Lowell. In 1891, he received the “Bene Merenti” medal from the pope for the same work. For his work to preserve the French language, he was made a member of “Academie Française” by the French government. His last honor came in 1921 when he received an autographed photograph and a letter of personal thanks and blessing from Pope Benedict XV.
In November 1930, a year after his wife, Clara, had passed away, Mr. Guillet suffered a stroke and retired to his home in Belvidere. Three months later, he married Louisa A. (Leonard) Hurtibuse, his long-time housekeeper. Mr. Guillet died a mere three weeks later on April 5, 1931 at the age of 78.