Quebec Studies

The Ethnicity of Clerical Leadership: The Dominicans in Francophone Lewiston, Maine, 1881-1986

Quebec Studies (2002), 33, (1), 83–101.

Abstract

83 The Ethnicity of Clerical Leadership: The Dominicans in Francophone Lewiston, Maine, 1881-1986 Mark Paul Richard Maine School of Science and Mathematics Scholars of the Quebec diaspora have little explored the role of Quebec élites in the persistence of French-Canadian culture in the northeastern United States. One notable exception was the late Robert G. LeBlanc, who was pas­ sionately interested in trans-border issues and, particularly, in the connec­ tion between Quebec élites and French-Canadian descendants in the U.S.A. (see LeBlanc 1983,1985a, 1985b, and especially 1988). At present, however, we know little about the role of transnational francophone clergy in delay­ ing or encouraging the Americanization of French speakers in the United States. Scholars have generally believed that clergymen from French Canada promoted ethnic retention, while clergymen from France encour­ aged Americanization. The experience of the Dominican order in fran­ cophone Lewiston, Maine, reveals a more complicated reality, illustrating the truth and the fallacy of this generalization. The Dominicans arrived in Quebec in 1873 and in Lewiston in 1881. Anticlerical measures of the French government, such as forbidding mem­ bers of religious orders from living together in communities, had motivated the Dominicans to migrate to North America {Lewiston Evening Journal, 4 February 1882; la Chronique du couvent I, 1-2). They had especially wanted to serve in the United States (Chronique 1,1-2). But, after considering calls from the Archbishop of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Bishop of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the Dominicans chose Saint-Hyacinthe as their North American base in 1873, believing it offered greater potential to furnish recruits to the order (Plourde 1973, 24, 26). Once established in Quebec, the Dominicans looked for missions in the United States. When Catholic prelates in Boston and Providence rejected their offers to serve, they approached Bishop James Augustin Healy of Maine (Plourde 1973,51-52). In 1881, Healy appointed them to the growing French-Canadian community of Lewiston, where Alexandre-Louis Mothon succeeded Saint-Hyacinthe native, Pierre Hévey, as pastor of Saint-Pierre parish (Plourde 1970,11, 21-22). French Canadians had migrated to Lewiston as part of the Quebec diaspora in which nearly one million persons took up residence in the northeastern United States by 1930 (Lavoie 53). They concentrated in the textile mill towns of New England, such as Lewiston, where they succeeded the Irish as the predominant source of unskilled labor after the Civil War.1 French Canadians and their descendants comprised nearly one-fourth of Lewiston's population by 1880, approximately one-half by 1900, and about three-fifths by 1930 (U.S. Census, 1880; Vicero 343; Bernard 6). Given the tenuous situation the Dominicans had faced in France, they were sensitive to religious and political issues in the United States after they arrived in Lewiston. As forced migrants, the French Dominicans were Québec Studies, Volume 33, Spring/Summer 2002

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Richard, Mark