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The Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (Grey Nuns of The Cross)

[Editor’s Note: In 1995 the sisters of Charity of Ottawa celebrated their Sesquicentennial. In Lowell, the event was celebrated on May 21st of that year. For the occasion Marguerite B. Lyons, ACSCO, abridged and compiled a history of the order that appeared in the souvenir program. It is from this text that we extracted the following information, which has since been edited and up-dated with the assistance of Sr. Pauline Leblanc, s.c.o.]

The long and beautiful history of the Grey Nuns of the Cross in Lowell, Massachusetts, began in 1880, when Mother Josephine Phelan, responding to a request from Rev. James McGrath, O.M.I., send two French-speaking and four English-speaking nuns to the Immaculate Conception Parish to staff its parochial school.

In 1883, at the request of Fr. Garin, O.M.I., pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, Sisters came to Lowell to meet the needs of the many Canadian families that arrived in his parish. St. Joseph’s Convent and School were opened that year and served there until 1980. the first superior was Sr. Plante. Sister St. Leontine and Sister St. Lucien taught first and second grade boys in two small classrooms in a brick structure, known as “la petite école” in the shadow of St. Jean Baptiste Church.

Ste. Jeanne d’Arc School opened in 1910, as an extension of St. Joseph School before Ste. Jeanne d’Arc Parish was formally established. In 1929, at the request of the Oblate Fathers in Lowell, the sisters who had been teaching for many years at Ste. Jeanne d’Arc School to which they traveled every day from St. Joseph’s convent, finally moved into their own convent on upper Moody Street (now University Avenue). This school is still a vibrant education community to this day.

The Grey Nuns of the Cross at St. Joseph Convent also taught at Notre Dame de Lourdes School in the Highland section of Lowell. From 1909 until 1913, when they were given their own convent, the Sisters had to travel back and forth to St. Joseph’s Convent. Notre Dame de Lourdes Convent and school in Lowell opened in 1913 and remained open until 1977.

In 1928 at the request of the late Rev. Louis G. Bachand, then pastor of St. Jean Baptiste Parish, the Grey Nuns of the Cross opened St. Joseph High School for Girls on the upper floor of the elementary school. Need for larger quarters made it imperative to move to a private two-story home on Pawtucket Street. It became the quarters for the high school, which later moved to the former residence of the Marist Brothers, corner of Moody and Pawtucket Streets. In 1990, St. Joseph High School merged with St. Louis Academy and Keith Catholic to henceforth be known as Lowell Catholic High School.

In 1930, the Grey Nuns of the Cross added another great undertaking to the many they already had assumed in the realm of education in Lowell. This time in answer to another request from Father Bachand, the congregation agreed to take over the administration of Lowell’s old and antiquated Corporation Hospital.

In 1944 the community purchased the Allen-Logan mansion on Rolfe Street, Lowell, and in August, 1945 the Franco-American postulancy program got underway with the admission of six postulants. The property was from then on known as Mount. St. Joseph.

In 1950, the general organization of the Congregation grouped its seven houses in the United States into one province giving it the name of St. Joseph. The first provincial house was at 57 Rolfe Street where a few elderly Sisters, postulants and novices lived until 1957, when an expansion program in favor of the Lowell Teachers College forced the Sisters to move to Fairmount Street. Due to lack of space because of the increasing number of postulants, it had to be moved once again. This time they moved the Novitiate to Framingham.

When Sister St. Alphonse Rodriquez, administrator of St. Joseph Hospital from the beginning, returned to Ottawa in 1956, she was succeeded as administrator of the hospital by Sister St. Celestine, who continued the modernization program.

A Lowell graduate of the hospital’s school of nursing, namely, Sister Yvette Thibaudeau assumed the responsibilities of its administration in 1964. She remained at the helm of its activities and undertakings until 1989. In 1992, the two Catholic Hospitals in Lowell, St. John’s and St. Joseph’s, merged under the new name of Saints Memorial Medical Center.

In 1959 Mother Saint-André-Corsini gave Lowell one of its most sorely needed establishments, namely a home for its aging and elderly population. Fulfillment of this response to a pressing need was achieved in May, 1960, when Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, blessed d’Youville Manor on Varnum Avenue. This ultra modern facility in the realm of health care for the elderly has been a tremendous blessing for the population of Lowell and its surrounding area.

In 1964, three wings were added to the manor complex. One became the Provincial House, the larger part of which is St. Joseph’s Residence for retired Sisters who have their own private chapel and all the special accommodations required for their needs.

In 1965, expansion at St. Joseph’s Hospital made it imperative for the Sisters there to give up their convent quarters. The Hospital bought the old stone structure formerly known as the Ayer home for orphans, directly across the street from the hospital.

In 1966, the sisters entered their new home, most appropriately named, “Bachand Hall”, in tribute to the late Father Louis G. Bachand, O.M.I. founder and first president of the Corporation of St. Joseph Hospital.

Since 2005, Bachand Hall is now home to seven Sisters and twelve young women students in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

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(Revised: 2/2014)