By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The organization had its beginning in February of 1919 as La Ligue des Presidents (The Franco-American President’s League). After a name change in 2003 to La Ligue des Franco-Américains, the Franco-American League is still active in the Whaling City 95 years later.
According to La Ligue, its “goals were to help coordinate activities of all the local clubs and societies whose purposes were to foster the interests of New Bedford’s Franco-American population. In doing so, it would help preserve the French religious heritage and culture and to yearly celebrate the feast of St. Jean Baptiste.”
That’s exactly what happened on this year’s feast day, when the La Ligue met for a Mass and banquet while honoring several area individuals, some of whom are very active in ministries in the Diocese of Fall River.
At a banquet held at the Wamsutta Club in New Bedford, Father Marc H. Bergeron, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford, was honored as the Franco-American Professional of the Year; and Lynette (Landry) Ouellette, past president of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, among many other diocesan duties, was honored as the Franco-American of the Year.
The members and honorees gathered at 9:30 a.m. for a tribute at the Franco-American Veterans Square at the intersection of Nauset and Mount Pleasant streets and Hathaway Road, and then attended the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph-St. Therese Church, celebrated by Father Philip Hamel, a distant cousin of Ouellette.
From there La Ligue went to the Wamsutta Club for the festivities.
“Several good friends joined me for the celebration,” Father Bergeron told The Anchor. “That made it all the more pleasant. It was a very happy experience to have received the award and to be informed of it by Dr. Alfred Saulniers (La Ligue archivist), my Bishop Stang High School classmate. We were in the first graduating class at Bishop Stang in 1953.”
Ouellette, also La Ligue’s secretary, told The Anchor, “I was very proud to receive the award. It was a great honor. I’ve been involved in the French community for many years in the area. I was a French teacher for a number of years at Westport High School, and another of the recipients at the banquet, Ava Gagnon (Franco-American Educator of the Year) was a student of mine there.”
In his 44 years as a priest in the Diocese of Fall River, Father Bergeron has ministered in many traditional French-Canadian parishes including St. Joseph’s and St. Anthony of Padua parishes in New Bedford and St. Anne’s Parish in Fall River, before coming to Our Lady of Fatima in New Bedford in 2012.
He has a long list of diocesan appointments and duties and is currently the diocesan director of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs Office and is a member of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
Ouellette is certainly no stranger to the diocese, having been a longtime DCCW member and officer on the national, diocesan, district and affiliate levels; is a Marian Medal winner; a member of the St. George’s Parish Council in Westport; an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion; a member of several non-diocesan organizations; and volunteers for charities including heart, cancer, arthritis and the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
She has been married to Normand Ouellette (La Ligue’s current president) for 49 years and has one son and two grandchildren.
Part of the levity of the day was when the group learned that Ouellette’s parents Armand and Yvette were well-known Vaudevillian performers, appearing on stage as the “French Court Magician,” and “Yvette Queen of Escapes.”
“I even appeared on stage with my father,” Ouellette said, “at about three or four. I have a photograph of me in a bunny costume as part of the act.”
“Learning about Lynette’s parents added to the fun of the day,” said Father Bergeron.
“La Ligue is one of several organizations that work to promote the French language and culture,” added Father Bergeron. “Interestingly St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Franco-Americans and several other ethnic groups. This leads to celebrations at this time of year.
“French Canadians were one of the major immigrant groups in our area. They made major contributions especially to the Catholic Church here in our diocese. It is good to encourage their descendents to keep in touch with their roots and each other.”
Also honored was Raymond E. L’Heureux (Franco-American Veteran of the Year), a graduate of St. Kilian’s School in New Bedford and Bishop Stang High School. Part of his service in the United States Army was a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968-69.
Recipient of the Roland G. Vanesse Ligue des Franco-Américains Scholarship was Andrew D. Letendre, from Greater New Bedford Vocational-Technical High School.