Milestones in the History of La Paroisse Saint-Jean-Baptiste
The following is taken from the 125th Anniversary booklet commemorating Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Lowell, Massachusetts, the first Franco-American parish in the archdiocese of Boston:
1868 The First Church
Reverend Father André-Marie Garin, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from France, a perfectly bilingual priest, opens St. Joseph’s Church, a former Protestant temple on Lee Street, as the first house of worship for Lowell’s rapidly growing French-Canadian immigrant population. The First Franco-American Parish of the Archdiocese of Boston is born.
1883 St. Joseph’s Elementary School
Father Garin welcomes 800 French-speaking children to his newly built elementary school on upper Moody Street, alongside a convent for the Grey Nuns of the Cross of Ottawa, the teaching staff of the school.
1887 The Rectory
The Bonney House at 725 Merrimack Street, purchased by Father Garin, becomes Saint-Jean-Baptiste Rectory and eventually serves as the Provincial quarters of the Franco-American Oblates. An addition to the house, extending to Moody Street, becomes the living quarters of the “Petites Soeurs de la Sainte-Famille” from Sherbrooke, who are called upon to staff the Oblate residence.
1888 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church
Father Garin lays the cornerstone of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church, the first to be built from scratch for the ever-growing French-Canadian population. He names it after their patron Saint. Soon, the lower church is opened to the public.
1889 The C.M.A.C.
Founded in one of the meeting-rooms of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church as a fraternal and mutual insurance organization, l’Association Catholique evolved from a previously established youth group already trained as leaders of the parochial Society of the Guardian Angels which came to be in 1878. Incorporated under the Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the CMAC soon built its own impressive headquarters at the head of Merrimack Street and functioned until very recently as a recreational and cultural center.
1892 St. Joseph’s College
St. Joseph’s elementary school for boys is added on to Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s parochial network by Father Garin and is entrusted to the French teaching order of the Marist Brothers. The latters’ residence is established at the corner of Pawtucket and Moody Streets. The total enrollment of the separate girls’ and boys’ schools in the parish reaches a record high of 1700. A bilingual program is offered in this school system.
1894 St. Joseph’s Cemetery
St. Joseph’s Cemetery, a vast tract of land on the rolling hills of East Chelmsford, is inaugurated by Father Garin, still pastor of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, as the final resting-place of his beloved French people.
1895 Death of Father Garin
The pastor of Saint-Jean-Baptiste passes away on February 17, 1895. His memory is revered, not only as a builder of Lowell’s cathedrals, the Church of the Immaculate Conception (1872) and Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1888), as a pioneer of the parochial school system in the Archdiocese of Boston, but also as the inspired leader of the French people of Lowell and the Founding Father of all the Oblate of Mary Immaculate missions in the United States.
1896 Father Garin’s Statue
The unveiling ceremony of the bronze statue of Father André-Marie Garin, O.M.I. is an important civic event. The statue remains a landmark on Merrimack Street, next to the church, with its inscription: “Erected by the People of Lowell”, stressing the city-wide impact of the Founding Father’s contribution. A Louis P. Hébert sculpture of heroic dimension, it shows Father Garin, right hand outstretched in a welcoming gesture, and “his left hand holding, close to his heart, the plans of Saint-Jean Baptiste, his adored Parish”.
(Translated from a biography, L’Inoubliable Fondateur, F. G. Carriere, O.M.I., Montréal, Rayonnement, 1964, p.174.)
1896 Consecration of the Completed Church
His Excellency, John Williams, Archbishop of Boston, officiates at the consecration of the magnificent Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church.
1905 The Parish Library
Father Armand Baron, O.M.I. is the founder of La Librairie Baron, intended to encourage La Bonne Lecture. Initially, it is a lending library of 3000 books conforming to Catholic criteria and in the French language.
1908 Franco-American Orphanage
The Ayer Mansion at 357 Pawtucket Street, purchased by Father Joseph Campeau, O.M.I., pastor of Saint-Jean-Baptiste parish, becomes the Franco-American Orphanage. Now known as the Franco-American School, it has always been staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Québec and maintains a full-capacity enrollment of 350 students from K-1 to 8th Grade, with waiting-list.
1911 Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes
1911 Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union
A focus on the economic well-being of the community becomes part of the parochial picture when Father Henri Watelle, O.M.I., and his assistant, Father Audibert, O.M.I., endorse the founding of La Caisse Populaire Jeanne d’Arc. Presently a sound banking institution of regional importance, the Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union takes pride in retracing its origin to the little red-brick building at the corner of the church lot and remains committed to the area.
1912 St-Jean-Baptiste Church Destroyed by Fire
1915 St. Joseph Hospice
The sisters of Charity of Québec open St. Joseph Hospice for the chronically and terminally ill. It is located in the Marin Mansion on Pawtucket Street, a property acquired by Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish. The Hospice closes in 1931, soon after the opening of St. Joseph’s Hospital.
1916 Opening of Reconstructed Church
1928 St. Joseph’s High School
Father Louis Bachand, O.M.I. pastor of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, establishes St. Joseph’s High School for Girls which evolves from an interparochial high school into a regional coeducational High School under the direction of the Grey Nuns of the Cross in 1956.
1929 Inauguration of St. Joseph’s Hall
Father Louis Bachand, O.M.I., pastor, responds to the need of a spacious parish center by building La Salle Saint-Joseph at 762 Merrimack Street.
1930 St. Joseph’s Hospital
Father Louis Bachand, O.M.I., pastor of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish launches St. Joseph’s Hospital on the premises of the old Lowell Corporation Hospital. It is entrusted to the management of the Grey Nuns of the Cross of Ottawa. As hospitals, it becomes the St. Joseph Campus of Saints Memorial Hospital.
1940 A Mission Clearing-House
La Procure de Mazenod/Oblate Foreign Missions Center, opens at 46 Mount Washington Street, under the direction of Father Edouard Carrier, O.M.I. Again the parishioners of Saint-Jean-Baptiste are called upon to provide volunteers for its workshops.
1950 CYO Recreational Center
For many years during the 50’s, the Lowell Boating Club Building, now the Vesper Apartment House on Pawtucket Street, serves as a Saint-Jean-Baptiste Catholic Youth Organization recreational center, sponsoring dances, ice-skating parties and a diversity of supervised activities.
1956 Saint Joseph The Worker Shrine
Establishment of the mid-town Shrine in the old St. Joseph Church on Lee Street, by Father Eugene Noury, O.M.I. The old church which had served as a satellite chapel to Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church since 1888 takes on a broader, city-wide mission.
1969 Departure of The Marist Brothers
Le College St-Joseph ceases to exist as a separate elementary school for boys resulting in the departure of the Marist Brothers whose services at the Boys’ High School had been curtailed in 1956.
1980 Withdrawal of The Sisters of Ottawa
St. Joseph’s Elementary School loses the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa but remains open with a Catholic lay faculty until 1992. The Sisters of Ottawa continue to staff St. Joseph’s Regional High School.
1991 High School Merger
St. Joseph’s Regional High School loses its identity and location in Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish through its merger with St. Louis Academy and Keith Hall to become part of the Lowell Catholic High School.
1992 Termination of the Elementary School
Closure of Moody Street Parochial School by decision of the Archdiocese of Boston.
1992 Resignation of Oblates
The resignation of the Oblates from Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish becomes official following a decision formulated during the administration of Father Donald Arel, O.M.I., Provincial. Father Michael Lauzé, O.M.I., regretfully departs on July 1, 1992.
1992 Archdiocesan Administration
The Archdiocese of Boston provides secular priests for the final months of the Parish.
1993 Termination of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish
June 30th is the final day of the existence of Saint-Jean-Baptiste as the mother parish of the French Catholics of Lowell. As tradition would have it, a Mass will be celebrated in its incomparably beautiful cathedral-like church as the closing event of the annual Franco-American Week on Sunday, June 27, 1993. On this occasion, Franco-Americans of the area, descendents of the dynamic parishioners of yore, will once again reclaim their profoundly French Catholic roots and proudly proclaim their God-given right to cultural identity.
A chronology by Marthe Biron Peloquin,
St. Joseph’s H.S., Class of 1935.