Patrons of the Franco-American Heritage Center’s monthly French language luncheon, known as La Rencontre, raised $575 on Friday, July 12, to donate to a relief fund to help the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, recover from the recent train derailment and fire that left 50 people dead or missing and devastated the town’s center.
After reading an editorial in the Sun Journal that morning about the relief fund set up by the Town of Farmington, which has been a “sister city” with Lac-Mégantic since 1991, Franco Center board of directors president Raymond Lagueux approached Louis Morin, the center’s executive director, as patrons were filing into La Rencontre and suggested taking up a collection.
Morin not only agreed, he committed the Franco Center’s proceeds from the 50-50 raffle from Friday’s La Rencontre, which added an additional $105 to the $470 raised during the collection that will be donated this week to the Lac-Mégantic relief fund.
“The majority of people who come to La Rencontre every month, myself included, still have relatives living in Quebec,” Morin says. “I commend Ray Lagueux for seizing the opportunity when the Franco Center was full to take up the collection. Most of the patrons at La Rencontre are elderly and on fixed incomes, which makes their generosity all the more touching.”
For others who wish to donate, the relief fund is established at TD Bank in Farmington. Donations can be delivered in person or mailed to either of the bank’s two Farmington branches, located at 163 Broadway or 670 Wilton Road (zip code 04938). “Lac-Mégantic” must be written somewhere on the check.
The Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston will conduct the spring-summer session of its French Reacquisition classes beginning the week of May 20, 2013. The six weekly classes take place over seven weeks through July 2nd and will be held from 6-8 p.m. on either Monday or Tuesday, depending on ability.
Classes will not be held on Monday, May 27th or Tuesday, May 28th in observance of Memorial Day on the 27th and a long-planned function at the Franco Center on May 28th. After the last class on July 2nd, classes will break for the summer and resume again the fall.
Monday nights are for “false beginners,” who at one time possessed a basic level of French-speaking ability which may have diminished over the years though lack of practice. Participants get reacquainted with vocabulary, verb tenses and sentence structure in order to build on what they already know. Varied topics are used as a guide to help with speaking. The pace is relaxed and class is taught in both French and English.
Tuesday nights are for those who speak French at an intermediate or advanced level and who wish to improve their confidence in a weekly forum where they get to practice alongside others with comparable abilities. These are conversational classes with very little grammar, and are taught almost exclusively in French. Materials vary and participants choose from a list of possible topics.
Teaching both courses will be Diane Pelletier-Perron. Born into a large Franco-American family in Lewiston, she has a bachelor’s degree in French and lived in France for 18 years, teaching and tutoring both French and English for over 20 years.
“I’m delighted to see so many people getting reacquainted with their French language and heritage,” says Pelletier-Perron. “Speaking from my own experience, there’s a sense of satisfaction and pride when you can have a conversation in French and understand French news and cinema. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you last spoke French, you can definitely get it back. I did.”
Classes will be held in the Heritage Hall at the Franco Center. The total cost for the six classes is $75, and registration can be done via the telephone by calling 783-1585 or by emailing Joyce Coyne at jcoyne(at)francocenter.org. To register by mail, send your contact information and payment to Franco-American Heritage Center, 46 Cedar Street, Lewiston, ME 04240 Attn: French Reacquisition.
As the word “reacquisition” suggests, the classes are not designed for those who have never spoken any French at all and who have no experience with the language. The Franco Center also requires a minimum of 8 people per class and if that threshold is not met, full refunds will be issued to those who have already paid.
Twenty-six French students from Leavitt High School, led by their teacher Christine Marcous, took a field trip to the Franco-American Heritage Center and later to Museum L/A to get a hands-on lesson on what life was like for French-Canadians immigrants in Lewiston.
First, Bates professor emeritus Douglas Hodgkin gave them a tour of the “Little Canada” neighborhood that defined life for French-Canadian immigrants, showing them the Grand Trunk Railroad depot, the mills where the immigrants found work, L’École Ste. Marie where they went to school, the Oxford street tenements where they lived, and ending at the Franco-American Heritage Center where they worshiped back when it was known as St. Mary’s Catholic Church. All these institutions are within three blocks blocks of each other.
While at the Franco Center, they got a brief history of the building and how it became the Franco Center in 2000 — a decline in the number of parishioners and an urgent need for extensive structural work caused the Catholic diocese to close the facility. Next, Cindy Larock of Lewiston, who will be inducted in the Franco-American Hall of Fame on May 14th in a ceremony at the Statehouse in Augusta, demonstrated traditional French-Canadian folks dances along with Don Cunnigham on mandolin and Lorraine Ouellette on accordion. And finally, the students enjoyed a meal consisting of samples of traditional Franco foods like tourtière, crêpes, salmon pie, pea soup and “boudin,” or blood sausage.
Altogether, the students spent nearly two hours at the Franco Center learning about what life was like for their grandparents and great-grandparents. After their time at the Franco Center, they boarded a bus and headed to Museum L/A to learn more about the lives of Francos in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Please check out this recent article in the Portland Press Herald by Franco friend Juliana L’Heureux.
The story gives a behind-the-scenes look at a display we are developing here at le Centre for a reveal this spring.
“I’ve wanted to celebrate the enormous dedication of Grey Nuns to our community, because they provided social services and health care well before organized human services programs existed. Their effectiveness has not been fully recognized,” she says.
“The Grey Nuns were the backbone of the social services network in our communities before human service agencies were organized to help people,” says Dube. Known officially as the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the Grey Nuns were founded in 1737 by St. Marguerite d’Youville to care for the poor.
“In my judgment, the social services the French-speaking sisters provided was a kind of glue that bound the Franco-immigrant community with the church, their families and the community,” Dube says.