Hill Mill Hockey A group of boys plays hockey in the parking lot of Hill Mill in Lewiston, circa 1960. (photo courtesy of the Franco-American Collection, University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College)

Franco Heritage: classes, events & performances

While the impetus to create the Franco Center as a non-profit entity was the imminent destruction of of the magnificent structure that was known until July 2000 as St. Mary’s Church, the preservation of the building — while being our primary function — is not our sole purpose.

The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center also exists to preserve the language, culture, art and cuisine of the French-Canadian immigrants who settled in the Lewiston-Auburn area beginning in the 1860’s. After being discouraged both legally and culturally for over a hundred years, over the past decade or so there’s been something of a resurgence in the pride that Franco descendants of those immigrants feel about their common heritage. To bolster that resurgence, The Franco Center:

• hosts a monthly French-language luncheon known as La Rencontre, with entertainment that is more often than not also in French,
• offers French classes to adults and children alike,
• coordinates after-school French language, culture and art classes known as the Maine French Heritage Language Program in two Auburn elementary schools, where kids in grades K-6 spend four hours per week learning about world Francophone cultures with an emphasis on New England Franco-American traditions,
• produces French language concerts and other events on a regular basis,
• maintains a Franco heritage museum consisting of items and photographs of historic and cultural value, including a permanent exhibit dedicated to the Grey Nuns, also known as the Sisters of Charity, a group of nuns from Québec who worked tirelessly to ease the hardships for newly arriving French-Canadian immigrants is the days before the weaving of the social safety net,
• holds an annual reception to celebrate the latest inductions of Maine members into the Franco-American Hall of Fame, an event that coincides with La Semaine de la Francophonie (Francophone Week) and official recognition by the Maine Legislature of the contributions by Francos to Maine’s historic, economic and cultural life.

French Reacquisition