Long before the turn of the century, many Canadians of the Province of Quebec left behind the farmlands and parishes near the St. Lawrence River for a new life south of the border. They were joined by the Acadians who left their own villages and parishes of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. All of them brought their hopes and aspirations to a new country of dreams and possibilities.
Life on the farms and in the villages of Canada held no great future in those days. Families were large and prospects were small. The throbbing factories and mills of New England - and in particular a city like Leominster in central New England -beckoned with promises.
Jobs could be found in the comb and shirt shops here. Leominster was known then as "The Comb City of the World" shipping millions of combs and brushes of all shapes and sizes and colors to the far comers of the globe.
Here a man could find work twelve hours a day, six days a week -for wages that would feed and clothe his family and send his children to school. Even girls, wives and mothers could find jobs in the factories or do "homework" in their tenements, paid by the number of "pieces" they turned out at the kitchen table.
And so the Canadians and Acadians came, with their religion and traditions, their legends and songs, their Quebec stories of the loup garou, their appetite for tourtiere and poutine rapee, and their larger appetite for a new life and all the wonders of a new world.
There were no spires reaching toward the sky when the first Canadians reached Leominster. In 1870, there were only ten families here and they attended services at St. Leo's Church on Main Street. Many others soon followed, however.
Although they had a place to follow their religion at St. Leo's Church, they found themselves struggling with a language they were trying to speak and understand, and traditions that were very different from the rituals of the old ways in Canada. Yet, they were grateful for being taken in by Leominster's first Catholic parish and for the efforts of a curate, the Reverend Caisse, who helped them adjust to the new ways.
As the years grew closer to a new century, men and women with names like Frechette and Cloutier and Dargis found themselves in a dilemma, caught between the exciting possibilities of their new country, and the desire to keep alive a part of the past. They longed to hear sermons, make their confessions, hear their babies baptized and their young people married in the French language that was music to their ears.