After long negotiations, April 18, 1868, Lucien Lagier and Andre Marie Garin, both Oblates, arrived in Lowell. Sunday, the following day, they began preaching a mission in the cellar of St. Patrick’s church. After a census, it was found the Franco-Americans numbered about 1,200, including about 600 girls. Sunday evening, Fr. Garin called a meeting of his future parishioners and in the face of their enthusiasm, the next day he bought for $11,500 a former Unitarian church on Lee Street owned by a group of Spiritualists. By the second week of the mission, he had $3,000 collected for the down payment. Sunday, May 3, the first Mass was celebrated in St. Joseph’s church and the first Franco-American parish of the Archdiocese of Boston was founded.
Bishop Williams had made arrangements for the Oblates to care also for the Irish Catholics in the vicinity of St. John’s Hospital. Therefore, after the mission Father Lagier remained a few weeks to care for St. John’s chapel. At the end of the year when the Immaculate Conception parish was officially formed, Fr. Joseph Guillard was made the first pastor. Fr. Garin also cared for the Catholics of North Billerica. He called them together and bought an old church, named St. Andrew’s in his honor. In November 1868, Father Louis Lebret was named first pastor.
The parish organized, Fr. Garin turned his attention to the temporal welfare of his flock. Knowing the people’s attachment to their traditions, he organized on Wednesday evening, June 24, 1868, in the cellar of St. Joseph’s church, a musical soiree on the occasion of St. Jean Baptiste day, the patronal feast of the French-Canadians. Afterwards the celebration would become an annual affair. At the celebration in 1870, the first French play in Lowell “Le Proscrit” was presented in Huntington Hall.
[Pictured: St. Joseph the Worker Shrine]