THE SISTERS OF THE ASSUMPTION OF
THE BLESSED VIRGIN
LES SOEURS DE L'ASSOMPTION DE LA SAINTE VIERGE
[Editors Note:The following
information documents the history of the Sisters of the Assumption in Lowell, Massachusetts.It is extracted from the book, On American
Soil, written by Lucille Mercier, S.A.S.V. and published by Editions,
S.A.S.V., Nicolet 2003.This material is used
with permission of the author.]
Saint Louis de France
Sensitive to the religious and educational needs of
their Canadian compatriots in the United States, the sisters of the Assumption of the
Blessed Virgin contracted on April 23, 1907, with the Archdiocese of Boston, to staff St.
Louis de France School of Lowell for the same salary as in former foundations, $200 per
teacher per year payable in September and in February.
An appointment to United States schools
meant teaching large classes in an unfamiliar language with a more than favorable clergy
and parent support.That is what the ten
appointed sisters found as they arrived to teach 460 students at St. LouisSchool in September
of 1907.St. Sainte Gertrude was the founding
superior with the help of the following nine staff members:Sr. Sainte Perpetue, Sr. St. Ephraim, Sr. Sainte Jeanne de Valois, Sr. Saint
Bernardin, Sr. Saint Arsene, Sr. Marie de Lorette, Sr. Sainte Sophie, Sr. Saint Michel and
Sr. Saint Oswald.By October first, Sr. Marie
de lAssomption arrived as the eleventh teacher because the enrollment was higher
age from twenty to forty-five, these sisters settled down to the serious business of
providing Catholic education to the children of immigrant factory-working parents.They sought spiritual leadership and were very
willing to promote social and cultural activities that would integrate them painlessly
into the American scene.
As long as the bilingual atmosphere dominated the home, the bilingual approach to
curriculum existed in the classroom.What
students needed to nourish their spiritual life and to keep alive their Canadian heritage,
they learned in French.What prepared them for
the work force and assured their growth as Americans, they studied in English.
Sr. Sainte Gertrude, Principal, maintained the tradition of monthly report cards.In October after the schools opening, it was
already time for the pastor to come in contact with each student and evaluate his or her
performance in studies as shown on the monthly report card.
By the end of the second school year, the students achievements at Saint Louis received
public recognition.The Union Saint
Jean-Baptiste, at their annual feast day celebration on June 24,
special awards to outstanding students.Among
them we find Harvey Loiselle receiving the prize of a gold watch for ranking first in the
study of both the French and the English languages, Fleur-Ange Brousseau won a gold medal
for exceptional achievement in French.
In conforming to current practices in the public school system, Sr. Sainte Gertrude
readily communicated with the Lowell Public School Superintendent, Mr. Arthur K. Whitcomb.As special guest at graduation exercises, the third
year of the schools history, Mr. Whitcomb was impressed.His letter of June 23, 1910, affirms
that it was among the very finest graduations that I ever attended.I congratulate you and your pupils very
1.Chroniques du couvent Saint Louis de Lowell,
eighth-grade diploma was no qualification for a child to join the labor force.Too many parents chose to end their childrens
schooling after grammar school, usually at age 14.A
stop had to be made to finding young teens on the job in the Lowell factories.Vocational school attracted the boys to learn a
trade.Where could the young girls go?
Convinced that his parish could provide education beyond the elementary level,
Father Labossiere requested a secondary-level teacher from the General Administration of
the sisters community.Mother du
Sacre-Coeur and Mother Marie-Eustelle, Supervisor of Education, coming for the annual
visitation, were asked to open a high school to be named Saint LouisAcademy.Permission was granted in June 1918.This happy news announced from the pulpit marked
another big step in the schools progress.
Father Labossieres pet project envisioned lofty goals.Saint LouisAcademy was founded:
~ To form a group of elite women
capable of preserving and living Christian principles.
~ To train competent businesswomen
ready to assume on-the-job responsibilities.
~ To provide refinement and
cultural enrichment to these women through the study of literature and the arts.
When the Academy opened in September 1918, such objectives were condensed in a
two-year program, taught by a team of two genuinely talented teachers, in a two-room
school setting.The first class numbered
sixteen students, brave pioneers of a yet to be proven academic program.Under the guidance of Sr. Saint Jean du Cénacle
and Sr. Sainte Hombéline, their journey was a fascinating one. 1
Sr. Saint Jean du Cénacle (Dolores Peloquin) was no teenager when she joined the
Sisters of the Assumption.Having matured in
the world of business and experienced nine years of classroom teaching, she arrived at age
32 to be foundress of St. Louis Academy.Her
stenography writing glorified art. In all business courses, she revealed the clearness and
understanding of subject matter as well as sensitivity to students' level of
comprehension.To have Sister John, as she was
called, was to witness drama, humor, pathos all wrapped up in fast moving class time.During her fourteen years at Saint LouisAcademy, she trained
the best secretaries local companies could hire at the time.
Sr. Johns teammate, Sr. Sainte Hombéline, imparted to the students,
Christian training, good manners and a love for classic literature.At age 38, she brought to the classroom the wisdom
and experience of a superior intellect.With
her Academy Literary Club, she presented three or four plays a year.Her fluent literary style facilitated the writing
of formal speeches.Tutoring their delivery,
she enriched students with frequent elocution lessons.Although unlisted in the curriculum, public speaking and choral speaking were part
of sisters teaching.Many of
todays graduate school requirements for a masters degree in the French
classics were course of studies material for her young girls in high school.
It is no wonder that Fr. Labossiere looked with pride on what he termed his
Academy girls.With a family background
in French, students could study the classics in their own language.The Canadian-born Sr. Sainte Hombéline also loved
English which she referred to as the language of Shakespeare.Audiences applauded Academy programs showing
fluency in both languages. Whether on the stage performing a Molière play or at a summer
picnic or serving lunch after an evening of entertainment, the Academy girls displayed
refinement, social grace and mental swiftness.
Expansion of the Academy in personnel, offerings and space became imperative.In 1932, the school moved to the former rectory on
the corner of Boisvert and West Sixth streets.The
course of studies was extended to a three-year program.Seven years later, in 1939, the diversity of womens careers required the
addition of more arts and sciences resulting in the operation of a four-year high school
favoring especially the college-bound.
For 73 years Saint LouisAcademy tried to uphold the goals set at its
foundation.In an era of mergers and
consolidation, it became in 1991 part of LowellCatholicHigh School as requested by
the Boston Archdiocesan authorities.Since its
foundation in 1918, the Academy graduated 1,568 students several of whom occupy government
positions on the federal, state and municipal levels.Others have advanced to higher education to complete degrees in research, law,
medicine, various technological and business areas.In
addition, at least forty of them have joined religious orders and are presently spreading
the Word of God in all parts of the world.The
annual St. Louis Academy Alumnae Reunion, held every year in April, attests to the genuine
and lasting bonds that the school created and continues to foster among its former
1.Lucile Mercier, s.a.s.v., A vision of Saint Louis Parish, 1991, pp.16-17.
2.Mercier, op. cit., p.17.
Housing the Sisters
The first living quarters of the sisters were in the
school building.Foreseeing a steady growth in
enrollment and school personnel, Fr. Jacques made plans to construct a large convent
attached to the school.The work begun on March 19, 1909, was
completed in January 17,1910.The timing was perfect.
increasing enrollment reached 1,289 pupils in 1924.Twenty-three
classrooms were being used.It is not
surprising to find twenty-five sisters appointed to Saint Louis Convent.Guided by Fr. Labossiere, architects planned an
addition to the 1910 building, a project that began in May 1924.The new structure completed in November of the same
year, measured 64x46 feet within which were placed eleven bedrooms, two study halls, a
large 46x32 feet community room and a dining room of the same size on the first floor.
With the debt incurred by the parish for such a construction, it was obvious to the
sisters that the purchase of new convent furniture could be delayed.Quick to find a solution, Sr. Jean du Cenacle
suggested that a fund-raising campaign would accelerate the process.A letter, composed by her Academy companion, the
literary Sr. Sainte Hombeline, informed parishioners of the sisters' dilemma."A charitable gift lives beyond the life of
the giver," said the letter.Donations
started pouring in.A $25 gift from Mrs. John
H. Beaulieu came first and was followed by donations amounting to $600.In a few months, the living quarters of the sisters
were ready for an Open House.There was
rejoicing, gratitude and admiration on the part of both the sisters who received and the
parishioners who donated.
Schools: The BillingsSchool
To deprive children of a Catholic education because of
lack of space was totally opposed to Father Labossiere's pastoral goals.He found solutions to the problem.First he opened the wooden chapel serving a parish
hall to accommodate six classes.Then he found
that a small public school on Billings Street had been
vacant for five years.To negotiate for its
use by a Catholic parish was difficult.His
persistence won out and on September 8,
1924, the rented
school was opened.
Four sisters from Saint Louis convent taught
kindergarten and grades one, two and three at the school named Sacred Heart on Billings
Street.Every morning the assigned teachers left around
seven-thirty for their fifteen-minute walk to Billings Street.Their school bag in hand, they carried class
preparations, checked papers and a meager lunch for the day.The mission life at the billings made rigorous demands on the teachers.Yet, they enjoyed its country atmosphere.St Louise du Carmel (Lydia Girard) a member of the
original team and a firm disciplinarian enjoyed numerous friendships during the eight
years she served at the BillingsSchool.The memory of Sr. Jeanne du Redempteur (Lucienne
Lemire) is still alive today.For ten years
she initiated kindergarten toddlers to school life.Her
characteristic kindness and motherly devotion made them love school.
After seventeen years of existence, the Billings school closed
in September 1941.Enrollment at St. LouisSchool was dropping
gradually so all classes were gathered in the Boisvert Street buildings.
SainteMarieSchool in South Lowell
The youngsters at Sainte Marie Parish in South Lowell lived too far
from parochial schools to receive a Catholic education.The Oblates of Mary Immaculate's repeated appeal to the sisters of the
Assumption led to the opening of a small school in that parish.In September 1930, three sisters were appointed to
exercise their missionary zeal at Sainte Marie's.
An enrollment of one hundred twenty pupils proved worthwhile.They were divided into three classes: Sr.
marguerite de Paray (Cecile Hemond) taught kindergarten and grades one and two, Sr. Anne
du Saint Esprit had grades three and four while Sr. Sainte Maxime taught grades five, six
and seven.There was no eighth grade.Other veteran teachers well remembered for teaching
at Sainte Marie were Sr. Sainte Andrea (Therese Bercier), Sr. Sainte Armande (Edith
Simoneau), Sr. Therese de Rome (Rose-Alice Hebert) and Sr. Jeanne de Marie (Jeanne
The commute was done in the pastor's car.Every
morning, on his way to Saint Louis, he brought
three or four students to attend eighth grade classes at St. LouisSchool.On his way back, he drove the three sisters to
Sainte Marie.In the afternoon, he returned
the sisters to the convent.There he met the
eighth graders to bring them back home to South Lowell.In 1945, the sisters teaching at SainteMarieSchool were furnished
their own convent.After fifteen years of
commuting from Saint Louis, it was a
In 1945, Fr. Lucien Brassard thought seriously of opening a convent.His rectory could be home to the sisters.He would rent a humble flat for
Five sisters arrived on Saturday,
September 1, 1945:Sr. Véronique de Jésus, Superior, Sr. Thérèse
de Rome (Rose-Alice Hébert), Sr. Joseph de la Charité, Sr. Rita de Jésus (Rita
Therrien) and Sr. Marie-Françoise.
At Mass the next day, the sisters learned from the pulpit that the parish had a new
Pastor, Fr. George H. Lessard, o.m.i.The
following day, they learned from the new pastor himself that he would take his meals at
Before the week ended, the sisters received a mysterious invitation to go to the
parish hall.To their great surprise, they
were offered gifts, large and small, of household necessities, provisions of food and
first aid supplies.The parishioners, right
from the start, exercised a characteristic generosity toward the resident religious.
The opening day of school, September 12, appeared as the usual in the eyes of the
87 pupils in attendance.That the sisters came
to school from their neighboring home was no different than when they had commuted from St. Louis convent.The former rectory that had housed one occupant now
had to accommodate five.Two months
after the school opened, a desk for each sister and a sewing machine arrived.Six months later, twelve chairs for the chapel and
the parlor were received.Mass was then
celebrated in the convent chapel.Slowly, as
the parish budget allowed, the convent was being furnished.
The original purpose of establishing a Catholic school in South Lowell was to favor
the French-speaking population.This need
changed in the 1950s.Children no longer
spoke French.They could easily enroll in
larger Catholic schools in the area.So
thought the Provincial Superior, Sr. Marie-Eustelle when she wrote to the Pastor, Fr.
Alexander in 1953.1Her visit to
Sainte Marie convent and school proved that parish finances caused severe worries for the
Pastor.The deterioration of the school
especially obliged city-building inspectors to condemn it as hygienically unfit for
habitation.Extensive and expensive repairs
were out of the question.Thus, the subject of
the sisters withdrawal began.
With government subsidies, the city of Lowell had accepted
plans to participate in the construction of Interstate Highway 495.Routes traced for the project ran across South Lowell territory.Urban Renewal was in full force.
Parish property acquired at heavy sacrifice was claimed by the government in order
to improve travel routes.Attempts to oppose
the plan were futile.Radical changes were
forced on Sainte Marie Parish by the highway that demolished everything in its paths
including the school and divided what remained of the parish buildings.
The parishioners immediately wanted to find new property to house their school
especially not to send the sisters away.Negotiations
failed.For the past seven years, closing had
hovered over their lives.Now the reality had
to be faced.No longer could they enjoy their
small, friendly school.
On June 30, 1961, the
residence of the Sisters of the Assumption ended at St. Marie Convent, Grafton
Street, South Lowell.2
ThereseSchool In Dracut
The Parish of Sainte Thérèse was the daughter church of Saint Louis de
France in Lowell.In 1936, the Sainte Thérèse was vacant.The pastor atSt. Louis attended to
his mission church.In 1937, Cardinal
OConnell heard the parishioners appeal for a resident pastor and sent Fr.
Arthur O. Mercier to Dracut.During his administration, the novenas to Ste
Thérèse were revived every Tuesday.More
solemnity was given to the nine Tuesdays leading to Thérèses feast in October.
Life as usual
was interrupted in the fall of 1937.Following
the ninth Tuesday novena service, a crippled bone victim named Lorraine Fréchette rose
from her wheel chair and walked out of the church.3 This cure triggered a
series of events that led to the opening of a popular pilgrimage center honoring the
Little Flower.The small church could never
accommodate the 1500 pilgrims attending the Tuesday afternoon and evening novena.So an outdoor sanctuary-grotto was constructed on
the church grounds.
From 1928 to
1938, the sisters of the Assumption had been present to the Ste Thérèse Parish youth for
weekend catechism classes.In 1942, Fr.
Mercier expanded the sisters influence on the Dracut children by
In 1942, the
year after the closing of the Billings school, Sainte
Therese School of Dracut opened.Again, the
teachers who staffed that mission school resided at St. Louis Convent.The foundresses, Sr. Bernadette du Sacre Coeur
(Bernadette Lemoine) and Sr. Ernest de Jesus (Diana Courtois) rode the city bus to commute
to school. When a Provincial House at Sancta Maria was established in 1946, the Sainte Therese teachers
became part of the provincial community.The
parish sexton, George Mason, was responsible for the sisters' daily commute to school.A new convent built in 1954 became the sisters'
residence.By 1978, the shortage of personnel
obliged the sisters to withdraw from Dracut thereby
1.Letter from Mother Marie Eustelle to Fr. Victor
Alexandre, o.m.i., June 29, 1953.
couvent Sainte Marie, South Lowell, MA, June 16,
Lowell, MA, November 22,
Sancta Maria, Lowell, MA1945-1973
Two years prior to the creation of provinces, the
community had opened the Sancta Maria Convent on Farmland Road in Lowell.The original purpose was to operate a boarding
school in the area.The search for a proper
building ended with the purchase of the Bellehumeur house described as:
A big house, 13 big rooms, barn and garage, 4 acres or 134,240 sq. ft
of good land . This plot is situated on the corner of Lakeview
Farmland Road almost to Dalton St.The house is built on a hill so
that you have the sun all day long.The
view from there covers most
of Lowell . The
house is set away from the main thoroughfare.Very
Little change needed for a chapel.The
price is set for $12,000.Its
the ideal set-up. 1
Negotiations for the community were in the capable hands of Mère Saint Athanase.The big house was an imposing stone
structure referred to as the BellehumeurCastle.Prominent residents had claimed ownership of the
Bellehumeur House and remain immortalized in the street names of that region.In succession, the house belonged to Fisher A.
Hildreth, Florence Hildreth Nesmith, Civil War Captain Rowena Ried (1861), Appoline Picard
and Dr. David and Mrs. Adeline Bellehumeur.2
In November 1944, the amount agreed upon and paid by the community was $12,000 to
the Bellehumeur couple in payment of the house and a 4-acre lot.The sum of $2,000 was paid to Miss Appoline Picard
for the land completing the property down to Lakeview
The teachers of Sainte Marie School; Sr. Thérèse de Rome (Rose Alice Hébert),
Sr. Rita de Jésus (Rita Therrien), Sr. Jeanne de lEucharistie (Marie Boisclair) and
Joseph de la Charité were dividing their time between cleaning the house at Sancta Maria
and teaching in South Lowell.Everyday they
found a different suitable corner to sleep.At
morning, they were on their way down the street to join the St. Louis community in
prayer, Mass and breakfast. Their Pastor, Fr. Brassard, drove them to school after and brought
them back to Sancta Maria.
Open House at Sancta Maria, early in February 1945, brought neighbors and friends
in large number.Donations were not mentioned
yet visitors left free-will offerings amounting to $300.
The Pastor at St. Louis Rectory, Fr. Charles Cordier, was named chaplain at Sancta
Maria by Archbishop Cushing.He sang the first
Mass on Our Ladys feast of the Purification on February 2,
On weekdays, the sisters were blessed to have Mass at their house by a priest from
St. Louis Parish.On Sundays, the entire
personnel of thirteen walked down Lakeview
Avenue and West Sixth
Street to attend
High Mass at St. LouisChurch.
New orientations were taking place rapidly at Sancta Maria.No more postulants lived there.The South Lowell sisters were
gone to their own convent.To replace them
came the teachers of Sainte Thérèse in Dracut:Sr. Bernadette du Sacré-Coeur (Bernadette
Lemoine), Sr. Claire de Marie (Marie-Claire Desrosiers) and Sr. Jeanne de
LEucharistie (Marie Boisclair).
With Mother St. Athanase still directing operations, the Bellehumeur residence was
being transformed into an imposing Provincial House.The
large breezy porch, the curved asphalt walkway, the attractive landscaping, the majestic
line-up of evergreen trees, much was accomplished during the second year.By the summer of 1946, the Provincial House for the
AmericanProvince was in
Changes, however, were happening rapidly at Sainte Thérèse.The Pastor, Father Paul Martin gave up his rectory
to establish a convent for the six sisters teaching at SainteThérèseParochial
School.On December 6,
Marie Eustelles Dracut girls
left the Provincial House for their new residence.After
eight years of companionship, their departure left an emptiness in her heart.
Life was too quiet.It was but the
prelude, however, of more changes that were eminent.
The personnel remaining on Farmland Road continued
the educational mission of tutoring children of special needs and giving music lessons.These were the most progressive years of special
education at Sancta Maria.Between 115 and 120
pupils enrolled.During the summer months,
classes continued drawing about 60 pupils for special courses.
After serving twenty years as the sisters residence, Sancta Maria, the BellehumeurCastle on the hill,
showed physical deterioration.Ceilings needed
repairing, carpets were worn, fresh paint would preserve the walls, a general overhaul of
the building became urgent.
The mothers of the school children ran a cake sale and raised $314 to pay for the
chapel repairs.The Cercle Jeanne-Mance held a
Bridge Card Party to contribute to general Sancta Maria repairs.The sum raised, $700, proved very useful.Mr. Marchand painted six rooms and the corridors.
All sorts of services and donations given by numerous friends kept the place intact and
restored it to its original majestic splendor.
In June 1969, a section of land belonging to the house Sancta Maria,
Land situated on Farmland Road, Fred Street and Lakeview Avenue,
Was sold after consultation with the Provincial Council and the
Provincial Treasurer to Messrs Gladstone of Billerica.They intend
To construct apartment buildings 3
1.Letter from Saint
to Mother St. Jean l'Evangeliste, n.d.
2.Chroniques du couvent Sancta Maria de Lowell, MA, le 29
3.Chroniques, op. cit., June 1969.
A personnel of eight sisters at Sancta Maria in the 1960s made
possible special classes to satisfy the educational needs of 122 pupils enrolled in grades
K through 7.The jovial, systematic, energetic
Sr. Jeanne Ledoux served as Superior.Since she assumed the leadership in 1964, the
mission fulfilled was truly in the Assumption tradition.Sickness, however, forced Sr. Jeanne to leave Sancta Maria for St. Josephs
Hospital early in December 1969.After heart
surgery and several months of intensive and intermediate care an unsuccessful recovery
damaged her weakened body.On March 23,
1970, Sr. Jeanne
Ledoux passed away in the company of Sr. Jacqueline Pelletier, RN at our Infirmary in
Petersham.She was 62 years old.
The 1970 school year opened with major changes in school.Pupils of grades one through eight were advised to
enroll in others schools in Lowell or Dracut.At Sancta Maria, the only teaching offered was the
Kindergarten.Classes of an average of 80 to
85 tots aged 5 enrolled during the three years that followed.
Beginning in January 1971, the retired Father Sylvio Barrette came to say daily
Mass at on week-day
afternoons.After twenty-five years of service
to Sancta Maria, St. Louis Rectory had fewer priests with more responsibilities in their
own parish.So, the arrival of Fr. Barrette
was a welcomed adjustment to the priest shortage and gave the venerable Pastor an
agreeable ministry with the good sisters in his native city.
Echoes of the Sancta Maria closing became louder in January 1973.At that time, Mr. M. Achin paid a visit to evaluate
the entire property.In an official statement,
Sr. Marie Fournier, Provincial Superior, notified the sisters that no pupil need register
for the coming school year.
The large stone BellehumeurCastle, known for 28
years as Sancta Maria, was demolished during the 1980s.Bulldozers leveled the ground.Then,
twenty-three condominia were constructed to alleviate the housing shortage in the
Centralville section of Lowell.