Who do you count amongst Manchester’s ‘Most influential’ Franco-Americans?

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So I was trying to find what we call a “news peg” to hang this story on — that being a current event that opens the door to revisit some related topic — when I noticed an item in today’s Union Leader.

It seems the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is going to be recognizing Dr. Sylvio Dupuis as a “New England Notable” during an event on Friday from 1 to 2:30 at the Bethany Covenant Church, and since he is one of Manchester’s most prominent Franco-Americans, that provides me with the perfect opening to a question I’ve long posed to my friends:

Who would you rank among the most influential Franco-Americans in Manchester, past and present?

One gentleman made a passionate case for one Joseph Quirin, whose various enterprises included an imported liquor and wine business – both very pleasing endeavors, to me – plus a soft drink bottling concern before he ended his career as president of Manchester Coal and Ice Company.

I must confess, however, that I was more impressed when the very same gentleman cited the accomplishments of one Cletus Joyal, a local barber who, according to The Manchester Mirror, actually fathered 28 children with just one spouse.

Come to think of it, his wife — Julia (Montplaisir) Joyal — should be the one taking the bows.

Clearly, there is no shortage of important and influential Franco-Americans in the saga of Manchester — your Memere and Pepere among them — but after much thought and research, I have put together an extremely subjective list of my own Top Nine, and I chose nine merely to avoid the cliché of Top Ten lists.

Herewith, in reverse order of importance:

No. 9: Eulalie Brunette — Unless you were a resident of St. Peter’s Orphanage in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s, you might not know the name, but the orphans who lived there will never forget the woman who founded the Ladies of Charity. Under Madame Brunette’s direction, the Ladies of Charity raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for the orphanage, but more importantly, she created a sense of family for children who had none.

No. 8: Dr. Sylvio Dupuis — Even if the aforementioned Dr. Dupuis hadn’t served two terms as mayor of Manchester, he would probably qualify for this list because to me, he is the current embodiment of the Franco-American presence here in the city. His many achievements — president of Catholic Medical Center, interim president of Notre Dame College, president of the New England College of Optometry, state commissioner of Health and Human Services, to name a few — are only exceeded by his warmth and decency.

Sculptor Lucien Gosselin
Sculptor Lucien Gosselin

No. 7: Lucien Gosselin — Too few of his magnificent sculptures are in Manchester, but those we have lend majesty to the city. Consider his regal bust of Henry J. Sweeney in Sweeney Park, his monument to William H. Jutras in Mount Calvary Cemetery, the splendid equestrian statue of Kazimierz Pulaski in Pulaski Park and the soaring monument to honor the men of the Great War in Victory Park.

No. 6: Marie Grace DeRepentigny — Most folks know her by her married name, Grace Metalious, but too few recognize the remarkable talent of the woman who gave the world “Peyton Place.” In its day, it was the best-selling first novel in publishing history, and, although the author passed away more than a half a century ago, it remains a controversial cultural touchstone in America.

No. 5: Ulric Bourgeois — For nearly 65 years — first at Varick’s Department Store and then in his own studio — Ulric Bourgeois used his camera to capture indelible images of life in Manchester (such as his series on Charles Lambert, the Hermit of Mosquito Pond) and within Manchester’s Franco-American community.

No. 4: Rene Gagnon — He was just 19 years old when he raced up Mount Suribachi with an American flag tucked under his arm, but the ensuing photograph depicting the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima earned Rene Gagnon an enduring place in the annals of Manchester’s Franco-Americans.

Josaphat T. Benoit
Josaphat T. Benoit

No. 3: Josaphat T. Benoit — The one-time editor of the French-language newspaper “L’Avenir National” had earned doctoral degrees from both the University of Montreal and the famed Sorbonne in Paris by the time he was elected mayor of Manchester, an office he held from 1944 to 1962, making him the longest-serving mayor in the history of our fair city.

No. 2: Arthur E. Moreau — Citizens of a certain age associate the man with the hardware store that carried his family name, but after serving three terms as mayor, he rose to meet the city’s greatest challenge. The Manchester Union noted that “Mr. Moreau was the man behind ‘The City Which Would Not Die,’ the term applied to Manchester following the liquidation of Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in 1936,” and it was he who, “in the Queen City’s darkest hour, inspired the community.”

Monsignor Hevey
Monsignor Hevey

No. 1: Monsignor Pierre Hevey — The longtime pastor of Ste. Marie Church, in an effort to serve the members of his flock, helped create some of the city’s most enduring institutions, including Notre Dame de Lourdes Hospital (which was absorbed by Catholic Medical Center) and La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie, better known today as Saint Mary’s Bank Credit Union. His visage is forever immortalized in bronze at the southeast corner of Wayne Street and Notre Dame Avenue.

Ma liste est fait!

Who’s on your list?

John Clayton


John Clayton is Executive Director of the Manchester Historic Association. You can reach him with your historical (or existential) questions at jclayton@manchesterhistoric.org.



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