St. Louis History
St. Louis High School History -- Journal Tribune May 24, 1990
In the 1860s, the blaze of economic opportunity in New England began attracting
French Canadian inhabitants in the thousands. The burgeoning cotton empires of
Manchester, Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, and other mill towns needed them for
the second generation of Yankee workers had abandoned the mills and the Irish
immigrants, first on the scene, were then looking elsewhere for vocational endeavor.
The French Canadians were welcome for they are industrious in the extreme, do
not grumble about pay, are docile and have nothing to do with labor agitation.
From 1860, when the United States produced 75% of the worlds cotton, Francos
manned New England mills.
Because they were at the bottom of the labor heap for a long time they were often
scorned. When the chance for economic and social promotion came, they anxiously
seized it and were very grateful for it. This explains, for instance, why a certain
Biddeford school became so popular with Francos, why school spirit was so strong
for so long at St. Louis.
Israel Shevenell, one of the first French Canadians to settle permanently in Biddeford,
(1845), was soon followed by dozens of families from the province of Quebec. In 1870,
the 1,551 Francos in Biddeford, and 257 across the river in Saco, bought a Methodist
temple for $5,000 and obtained from Bishop Bacon of Portland a priest of French
origin to cater to their spiritual needs. This priest, Father Ponsardin, (1870 - 1877),
built St. Joseph church in 1873 at a cost of $125,000.
A holy man, Father Dupont, (1877 - 1915), succeeded the priest-founder. For 38 years,
he labored to maintain and increase the atmosphere of piety for which the parish is
still remarkable. One of his main achievements was the foundation in 1882 of St. Joseph
school after having obtained the assistance of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
After a four-year interval, Father J.A. LaFlamme was named fourth parish priest in 1920.
His noble bearing, his courtly manners, his passionate attitude soon made him the moral
force of the whole Biddeford area. In his concern for the future of the boys, he began
to think of organizing a school for them. He applied to La Prairie for religious teachers
and was promised four Brothers for 1928. The Brothers eventually went to Waterville
however, as Biddeford was not yet ready to accommodate them.
It was in August of 1929 that the four Brothers arrived in the typical New England
mill town. Brothers Salvius, David Touchette, Emilian Dauphinais, and Gabriel Sabourin
started the school in temporary quarters three in the Sisters school and one in the
The personality of Brother Salvius was strikingly similar to that of the pastor. Both
were remarkably affable, kind and tactful and both evoked enthusiastic responses from
adults and children. They worked beautifully together and remained close friends until
the end. Both left an imperishable imprint on Biddeford.
A modern eight-room school building was completed and blessed by Bishop Murray
on February 3, 1930. It cost $80,000. The Brothers happily exchanged temporary
classrooms for new elegant quarters.
THE EARLY DAYS
The pastor and the director agreed that that a high school should be opened the
following year for the eighth grade graduates of the three Franco-American parishes
in the area. Optimistic and enthusiastic by temperament, Brother Salvius had no
qualms about the decision. It was really a venture on a shoestring; there had been
sketchy planning and only minimal equipment was at hand. Nevertheless, the freshman
class opened in September 1930, and the gamble eventually paid off handsomely.
The next year, Brother Ephemera Morin, an experienced high school teacher and
administrator -- he had been principal at MAI for five years -- arrived at St. Louis
as director (1931 - 1937). He was the ideal man for the situation. An excellent
English teacher himself, he impressed the students with his professional competence
and self-assurance, even if they did not always understand what he said for Brother
Morin often mumbled and seldom repeated.
The new principal immediately set about providing suitable laboratory and
library facilities and guided the young establishment in such a way that in 1932, it
earned state approval, and in 1934, the Maine Education Department gave it an A
rating. In June 1934, nine happy graduates emerged from the portals of St. Louis,
the first of a long line of thirty-seven such groups.
Msgr. LaFlamme was particularly proud on the occasion of the graduation. Turning
to his parishioners, he confided: In 1927, when I started looking for Brothers, I
asked for advice and I was told: Choose the FICs. I did and I have never regretted it.
For the French speaking population, it was a day of triumph. Their sons now had the
chance of their lifetime. St. Louis was a symbol of opportunity, a breakthrough! The
Brothers were a godsend.
The FIC community grew by one Brother each year. As there were nine of them in
1934, the time had come to enlarge the Brothers residence. For this purpose, the
pastor asked his parishioners for a special contribution. One can gauge the esteem
the Brothers were held by the response of the people. Bear in mind that those were
the days of THE DEPRESSION! A heartwarming $13,000 was raised. The gesture
was indeed comforting.
With the solid support of the clergy and parishioners, St. Louis survived the
depression and forged ahead. The number of students increased year by year.
The main cogs on the staff stayed on through most of the thirties: Brother Leopold
Chauvette, five years; Brother Oscar Pelland, six years; Brother Ernest Julien, seven
years; Brother Francis of Assisi, eight years.
Not only was the latter senior class sponsor until 1940, he was also at the origin of
the St. Louis sports program. Under Brother Ephrem's prodding, he started and
coached both the baseball and football teams for four years (1934 -1938).
Baseball performance was excellent from the beginning (11 wins, 3 losses in 1937;
10 wins, and 2 losses in 1938); the football team established its superiority after
three seasons (5 wins, 2 losses in 1937). Sports immediately became a rallying
point for the spirited and loyal Francos of the area.
Work on the rocky ledge behind the school began in 1936. In 1939, thanks to the
cooperation of the WPA, the ledge was gone and the large schoolyard came into
Brother Ephrem was succeeded by Brother Marcel Laroche (1937 - 1939) who had
just launched the Fall River high school. A forceful man and good disciplinarian,
Brother Marcel was first and foremost a schoolman and educator. Frills and fads
were abhorred. An artist and musician, he organized the school orchestra in 1938.
He had no time to see it grow however, as he was recalled to Canada.
Brother Boniface Crepeau (1939 - 1940) came from Alfred for an interim period of
ten months during which he was proud to preside over the organization of the
THE GOLDEN ERA
In 1940, Brother Mereal, the provincial, adopted a new policy. He would leave
the Fall River high school in the hands of the Canadian born Brothers and appoint
to St. Louis several young and promising Franco-Americans previously groomed
at other schools. The staff was almost completely renewed: only three
incumbents were retained on the faculty. Brother Alexander Robitaille was
appointed director, and Brother Gabriel Cote, his assistant. It proved to be a
Relatively young, Brother Alexander (1940 - 1946) was then at the height of his
career. Prudent and wise, yet forceful and vigorous, he was also a careful public
relations man. He had total trust in his loyal "Shorty," Brother Gabriel. With a
remarkably talented group of dynamic young teachers such as Brothers Dacian
Barrette, Henry Vanasse, Conrad Dionne, Roland Vigeant, Robert Francoeur,
Oscar Morrisette, Eugene Belisle, and Paul Gaudreau, he instilled in the student
body and the alumni association a spirit which was to last as long as St. Louis itself.
Brother Dacian transformed the school orchestra into a snappy school band, which roused
the spirits of fans at the games. It would also enhance the beauty of every graduation from
the early forties until 1970. In 1945, the band won first prize in the Flag Day Parade and
later won many grade A awards under the baton of its successive directors and with the
expertise of its brilliant master, Mr. Alcide Villandry.
The school football team won the trophy of the Southern Maine Conference in
1944 thanks to the hard work of its coach Willie Wood, and strong financial help
from the St. Louis Alumni.
In 1946, energetic and tenacious Brother Dacian was at the helm (1946 - 1949).
Helped by devoted men such as Brothers Herman Brunet, Damian Antaya, Oscar
Mercier, Ernest Levesque, Benjamin Simoneau and Harvey Lemaire, he added luster
to the reputation of the school in academics and athletics. In 1946, the Alumni
Association acquired an athletic field for the school. They financed the cost of all
sports equipment and band uniforms and contributed a generous subsidy to the
In 1947, the school had to be expanded; a fund-raising campaign was launched.
The saintly and appreciative St. Andre pastor, Msgr. Decary, contributed the
astonishing amount of $50,000; a tangible sign of esteem in which he held
Two wings were added to the school. This provided ten more classrooms and
gave the whole structure an impressive appearance. For a working man's
parish, it was an eloquent testimonial to their high regard for their school. In
appreciation for the parishioners generosity, the number of Brothers was
increased from 11 in 1947 to 13 in 1948 and to 15 in 1949, at which point it
Upon leaving the scene in 1949, Brother Dacian was proud to offer to his
successor, Brother Henri Bernier, (1949 - 1951) the addition which his own
hard work had so greatly helped to build. The new principal developed the
school library and gave time and attention to the school sodality. He also
helped to start a school newspaper, "The Eagle," later called "The Flyer," for
which Brother Herman Brunet was moderator, and Brother Robert Francouer,
the artist. In addition, Brother Bernier sponsored the first school yearbook:
the 45-member class of 1951 was proud of their memory book the first of
twenty volumes published through 1970.
It was a friendly rejoinder to the class of 1950 which had boasted of
the first undefeated football team (9 - 0) with Mr. Parker as head coach.
In quick succession, three men presided over St. Louis: Brother
Henry Vanasse (1951 - 1952), Brother Richard Levesque (1952 - 1953),
and Brother George Caron (1953 - 1954). Each left his unmistakable stamp
on the school in spite of the shortness of his stay.
Brother Henry presided over the first prom of the school in June of 1952;
the year 50 graduates received their diplomas. Brother Richard initiated
the practice of intelligence tests to access the performance of each student
against his ability. Brother George personally interviewed each student when
grade reports were issued. His galvanic energy stimulated students to greater
In 1954 Brother Conrad Dionne became principal at St. Louis (1954 - 1957).
A promoter of academic achievement, he raised the scholastic standards and
secured affiliation with The Catholic University in 1956. Msgr. Hevey, the pastor
of St. Joseph Church, held his school principal in high esteem. He often
referred to him later as "my idea of a high school principal." What the pastor
appreciated in Brother Conrad was his single-minded pursuit of academic
excellence as well as his courtesy and his constant gentlemanliness.
Bob Cote became head football coach at the start of the 1957 season.
Bob would provide St. Louis fans with many years of genuine pride in their
teams. Brother Conrad who valued interscholastic sports was proud of the
coach and his student athletes.
An unforgettable man arrived at St. Louis replacing Brother Conrad in
1957. Brother Albert Tetrault, the tireless, exacting and staccato voiced
geometry teacher, and he stayed until 1965, an eight year period when
steady school work, not frills, was the order of the day; when hard sports
practice, not idle prattling, filled after school hours. In everything, he
demanded effort, constant effort. The boys found him demanding and
stern, but they knew he was fair, and treated them all equally. His
insistence on academic work paid dividends: four students scored high
honors in the 1961 National Merit Scholarship Tests.
The school spirit of the boys was proverbial. In southern Maine, St.
Louis stood for dynamism, aggressive spirit and devotion to Alma Mater.
That spirit was certainly manifest in sports activities. In 1958 and again
in 1961 the football team won the class A championship: those occasions
of unmitigated jubilation in the large St. Louis family.
The establishment of a $20,000 scholarship fund by Henri Dupre in
1958 and the appearance of the St. Louis Band at the Washington
Cherry Blossom Festival in April 1962 were two of the highlights of
Brother Albert's administration.
The ardor of the Alumni Association for anything that would boost the
school and its reputation was matchless. It financed the whole athletic
program from buying uniforms for all sports to paying the coaches
salaries. In the mid-sixties, $22,000 had to be raised annually for
operating expenses. This did not include the investment in land and
buildings, which amounted to $100,000 in the twenty-year period
between 1945 and 1965.
In 1947, the Alumni Association bought Alumni Field. In addition it
spent $20,000 readying it for use. In 1956, it paid $16,000 for the
field house. In 1962, it purchased the field next to Alumni Field for
$28,000. In 1964, it built a $20,000 skating lodge. All of this in
addition to the contributions for annual scholarships to St. Louis.
St. Louis High School had grown steadily over two decades and had
become a modern, many faceted organization, and this, at a time
when many religious men and women were turning away from their
life orientation and Orders had to reduce the number of laborers in
schools and hospitals. By the mid-60s, mounting school costs had
rendered the financial burden unbearably heavy and the worried
pastor then seriously considered surrendering the administration of
St. Louis to the diocese. To show his interest in the Brothers, however,
the pastor renovated their chapel in the fall of 1965. The oak paneling
created a sober, pleasant atmosphere. A community chronicler wrote
at the time that, "in keeping with the spirit of simplicity," the statues
That was the year that a new principal was assigned. Brother Richard
Levesque (1965 - 1967) devotedly administered the school and
integrated many of its activities with those of the girls high school
next door. St. Joseph and St. Louis became one in some areas.
During his second year, Brother Richard, in accord with the parish
authorities, completed the merger of the two schools. The small
parochial high school had evolved into a full-grown co-educational
To meet the needs of a bigger, modern school, Msgr. Hevey felt he
had to ask the diocese to direct it. Accordingly, in 1967, St. Louis
became a diocesan Regional High School of 520 boys and girls.
According to a semi-official chronicle of that period, it was the
biggest and most beautiful co-educational institution in the diocese.
But the end was near. It would only last three more years. Under
the administration of Brother Leo Moses (1967 - 1968), and of
Brother Gilbert LHeureux, (1968 - 1969), academic life continued
on an even keel and the school fielded a powerhouse football team,
and one of the first bands in the state.
In 1969, after many years of devoted service at St. Louis, Brother
Edgar St. Pierre, the experienced English teacher and perennial
yearbook/school paper moderator was named principal. It was to be
the last year of the school. The new principal plunged into his new
duties with gusto and relish, but the storm clouds threatened on the
The fate of the Diocesan Regional school was under discussion.
Rumors of closure became genuine fears. In the Spring, it was decided
to close St. Louis for lack of funds. The decision was announced as
unrevocable. No amount of recrimination could change it. The Regional
Catholic Board of Biddeford recommended that the school be closed
due to the unsolvable financial crisis it found itself in. Bishop Peter
Gerety of Portland concurred on March 30 1970 in his letter to Mr.
William Sutton, Board Chairman.
Bishop Gerety wrote: "As the Board Members know, I and my staff
have worked very closely with them during the past three years in an
effort to insure the future of St. Louis Regional High School. We
combined the three Catholic high schools in Biddeford into one school,
putting together their faculties and students in one strong educational
institution. We made of St. Louis High School a truly Regional High
School supported not only by St. Joseph parish as it had been in the
past, but also by all the parishes in the area. We all agreed therefore
that the decision to close the school would be an extremely serious
step and that every possible solution to our difficulties should be
"The Regional Board has spent many long hours studying the situation.
They have tried earnestly to discover solutions. None has been found.
As a result, they have agonized greatly over the necessity of
recommending that the school be closed. The Diocese, too, has tried
to find staff and funds. The problem, however, cannot be solved
without outside help. It is not forthcoming. In view of these facts, I
have no other choice but to concur that the high school cannot
continue beyond the end of the present school year."
In June of 1970, the last eight representatives of the FIC Order sadly
left the scene of forty-one years of devoted labor. The departure was
poignant. The people were struck with consternation. The scarcity of
vocations that had forced the crushing decision was not about to be
The FIC presence in Biddeford continued for another six years, into
the seventies, thanks to Brother Richard Hebert's request to be allowed
to submit his candidacy for the post of assistant principal and athletic
director of Biddeford High School.
His wish was granted and in September 1972, a Roman collared FIC
became one of the main cogs at BHS where our constantly hard working
confrere was greatly admired and appreciated for his devotion and loyalty
until August 1978 when he suddenly passed on.