In Richard Santerre’s book, La Paroisse Saint-Jean-Baptiste et les Franco-Américains de Lowell, Massachusetts 1868 à 1968*, we read that in 1906 Lowell, with a population of 94,889 had but two orphanages. One, for girls, was under the direction of St. Peter’s Parish and the other, the Ayer Home, housed Protestant children. In 1906 Father Joseph Lefebvre, O.M.I. convinced Archbishop Williams of Boston that the Franco-American community had an absolute need for such an institution. In January of 1907 Fr. Lefebvre traveled to Québec where he enlisted the assistance of the Sisters of Charity of Québec who would come to Lowell and staff the proposed institution thanks to their experience in the field. A few months later due to frail health, Fr. Lefebvre handed the reins for this project to Fr. Joseph Campeau who, shortly thereafter became pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
Originally the plans called for a four-storied structure to be located in the Pawtucketville section of Lowell on a plot of land bordered by Mt. Hope, Avon and White Streets and Fourth Avenue. Lack of funds forced the abandonment of this project however. (This location is the site of the former Ste-Jeanne-d’Arc Church.)
On 24 June, La Saint-Jean Baptiste, in 1908 the Oblates were able to purchase the Ayer property on Pawtucket Street, an acquisition that well suited the purpose for an orphanage. (The Ayer mansion is the former home of Beatrice Banning Ayer who, in 1910, became the wife of General George S. Patton.) Fr. Campeau became pastor of St-Joseph parish on 27 August 1907 and 3 days later received permission from Bishop William O’Connell to proceed with plans to open a Franco-American orphanage. Opening date was scheduled for September of 1908. In the meantime, four nuns arrived from Québec: Sr. Ste-Ursule, superior, was accompanied by Sr. Marie de l’Incarnation, Sr. St-Luc and Sr. St-Alain. The following month, October, Sr. Ste-Zoé, Sr. Marie du Bon Conseil and Sr. St-Alphine joined them. Each was paid a salary of $50.00 per year. On 15 October 1908 the staff of the Franco-American Orphanage welcomed sixteen orphans. In September of 1911 the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes « was dedicated.
In 1912 Rev. Henri Watelle, O.M.I., expanded the building and a four-story brick addition to the original mansion was constructed.
Under the administration of the Grey Nuns (Sisters of Charity) of Québec the building housed over 300 orphans.
What used to be the Franco-American Orphanage is now a day school known as the Franco American School. More information is available by going to: http://www.francoamericanschool.org/
*In 2014 an English translation of Richard Santerre’s book by Claire Quintal and Lucien Sawyer, O.M.I. was released and contains an epilogue “From the Centennial to the Present”. This publication may be purchased at The Shrine of Saint Joseph the Worker Gift Shop, 37 Lee Street, Lowell, MA 01852-1103.