Monday, May 2, 2011

Convent Schools and Womenfolk without their Husbands

When my grandfather Albert Poulin was a youngster, he and his younger brother, and maybe other siblings went to parochial school with the nuns.  One day he didn't come home for supper.  His mother Jenny (Voyer) Pooler/Poulin marched down to the school to see why he hadn't returned home.  Imagine her surprise and anger to find him sitting facing a corner with a dunce cap on his head.  That was the last time any of her children went to a parochial school!  Her children were immediately transferred to public school.  Jenny's husband Charles Pooler was a railroad conductor.  He had died due to cancer of the jaw which began as a train accident.  I'm not sure if this school incident occurred in Waterville before Charles' death or in Lewiston where she rejoined her siblings and parents after his death.

But that did not end our family history with parochial schools.

My Aunt Mary (Belanger) Desjardins sent her two daughters, Lillian and Dora to a French convent parochial school in Jackman, Maine. It may have been called Sacred Heart Academy or the St. Anthony School, located in Somerset County at Jackman, Maine. In 1915, There were 250 scholars at the St. Anthony School, 150 were boarders from all parts of Maine. None of the sisters were familiar with English, having come from Lyons, France, to teach at the school. (More web resources on that school here and here.)  Aunt Mary had lost her husband Dominique young and probably felt this was a good opportunity for the girls to get a good French education in an enclosed setting where they were safe.  Mom says that Lillian was very studious and Dora very artistic and dreamy.  My mother was dreamy, too.  Dora and Mom both valued the presence of Lillian because the nuns respected her and wanted her to join the convent.  Lillian, because of her high standing with the nuns, would negotiate a light penance for Dora and Mom when they would get into trouble.   
Mom and Dora Desjardins

I am not sure why my Mom (and whether or not my Uncle) was sent away by Albert and Lydia to the Jackman convent school.  I do know that my grandfather convalesced a year at Togus Veteran's Hospital in Togus, Maine for blood poisoning during a time when antibiotics were non-existent.  

Albert also mangled his hand in an ice crusher while managing Wiseman farms where they made ice-cream.  (Incidentally, he often sang the jingle "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream" to his children and would bring home ice cream that didn't sell.)  At Wiseman Farms, he was cleaning the machine and it accidentally went on when his wedding ring became caught.  He had the presence of mind to rapidly kick out the plug.  I believe that the Garcelon school in Lewiston was a convent school that Mom and possibly Uncle attended at a time while the family lived in Lewiston.
Mom as a school
girl with a brownie camera

My other grandfather, Omer, had died of smoke inhalation at the age of 32 when the Continental Bag Mill in Rumford had a fire.  He was the only casualty.  Several of his five children were sent to Healy Asylum, a French convent school run by the Sisters of Charity, The Grey Nuns. Being of French-Acadian ancestry, only English was spoken at home as the French language was lost among the Acadians who escaped the "Grande Derangement" or the expulsion of Acadians in 1755 and remained in Malpeque, Ile St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island).  So children of the next generations spoke English and none learned French at home.  Eventually, my grandmother Rosie Arsenault raised enough money to have her family back in her household.  My aunt Edith, 100 years old last month, told me how lonely it and difficult it was to adapt to a living environment where only French was spoken.
More about Healy Asylum can be found in the book:  The Quiet Revolutionaries: How The Grey Nuns Changed the Social Welfare Paradigm of Lewiston, Maine.  Google book exerpt

Me and my sister
When my sister and I were children, we were sent to parochial school, St. John the Baptist and also St. Athanasius.  We lived nearby both schools on Franklin Street in Rumford. Maine.  Mom was close to the nuns and often gave them rides in her robin's egg blue DeSoto.  One day she took some nuns to a seminar at Colby College in Waterville.  My sister and I were left to be babysat by the Sisters of St. Christien. They took great delight in finding the smallest nuns in the convent and dressing us in their habits!  That is one of my fondest memories with nuns!

Later, while in junior high, my sister and I were sent to convent school due to family circumstances.  We attended St. Louis Home in Scarborough, Maine.  This building has since been converted to house many shops.  Sr. Lucienne Guilbault, a grey nun (Sister of Charity), took care of us girls.  Every night at 7 she put us to sleep to her favorite singer Johnny Cash.  We loved "A Boy Named Sue" and "Folsom Prison Blues".  Sr. Lucienne would also let the four eldest girls stay up later on Friday nights to watch Bobby Sherman's show"Getting Together", "The Brady Bunch", and "The Partridge Family".  The nuns were friendly.  Mom visited on the weekends.  We were two of the lucky ones.  Many children there were wards of the state who had been taken away from their parents.  I remember any interesting trinket we had was stolen by others less fortunate. I remember the nuns playing billiards with the boys.  Big Sisters and Big Brothers organization members would take us snowmobiling and organize some parties.  It was not a bleak existence and the language spoken was English.  We were to stay there one school year until the Bishop had closed it down.  
Former St. Louis Home  - takes a few moments to load photo
Here is some history I found on the web about St. Louis Home:
Bishop Louis S. Walsh, in 1920, purchased the former Wayland House in West Scarborough. It opened on June 21, 1921 as the St. Louis Home and School for Boys. The student body increased in the 1930’s, often nearing as many as 65. It is claimed that over 50,000 meals were served each year, along with 8000 loaves of bread, 500 bushels of potatoes and 2 tons of meat. For 15 years, the Sisters of Mercy administered the Boys’ Home. In 1935, at the request of Bishop Joseph McCarthy, St Louis Home and School was sold by the Diocese to the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) of Lewiston. 
They converted it to a residence for both boys and girls. In 1971, the Sisters shifted their services to childcare and shortly after the facility became a part of Catholic Charities Maine. For several years it was housed in a former convent on Birch Street in Biddeford. The City of Biddeford later renovated Emery School and has offered the facility to St. Louis Child Development Center rent-free since 1993.  source: Catholic Charities: Treated with Mercy
Have a nice day!

Aunt Mary (Belanger) Desjardins and Memere Lydia (Belanger) Poulin


  1. My mother went to a parochial school in Winnipeg. She often spoke of how cruel the nuns were. She didn't have a many good memories of the place. Funny thing though, she was going to become a nun and in the end didn't take her final vows. Lucky for me I guess.

  2. Hi Lori, I had a cruel nun in day parochial school but not in the convent school where I lived. My Mom seriously considered being a nun, too. My father didn't take his final vows for the priesthood. Lucky for me, too!

  3. I believe that my father and his 4 siblings lied at the Sacred Heart Convent from about 1927 through 1930. They were transferred to Fall River Massachusetts St Joseph's Orphan Assylum at that time. They were listed as "inmates" on the 1930 US federal census. I'd love to find them on the roster of boarders at the Sacred Heart Convent but can't locate a Census.
    My aunts wrote letters to their mother reporting on my father as he spent alot of time in the infirmary with diptheria. They reported that the nuns were kind.
    Just wondering if there is a record of Pauline, Helen, Arthur,Leo and Charles Caradonna listed as boarders sometime between 1927 and 1930. Where can I look?