Author

Susan Fliss

Date of Award

2007

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Jacques Ferland

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Martha McNamara

Abstract

Motivated to ensure la survivance, the survival of their religion, language, and culture, French-Canadian immigrants established an extensive private Catholic education system ranging from parish elementary and high schools to boarding schools and colleges in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New England. Of these education levels, parish schools reached the largest number of French-Canadian children. In Holyoke, Massachusetts, French-Canadian survivance efforts centered on the education of their children in French-Canadian parish schools; however, the parish school performed a dual role for the French Canadians in the context of their cultural transition in New England. French-Canadian culture pervaded the school day with French as a language of instruction, sisters from French-Canadian orders as teachers, religion and Canadian history in the curriculum, and the observance of traditional cultural customs and celebrations. The French-Canadian immigrant community did not anticipate the schools' second role, that of aiding the acculturation of their children into American society. Although these roles seem to be at cross-purposes, they co-existed in New England until the second half of the twentieth century with the weakening of French-Canadian identity, the shortage of teaching sisters, and the closing of ethnic parish schools. The bilingual and bicultural character of the school day, influenced by both assimilation and survivance strategies, contributed to the development of a Franco-American population in Holyoke. In steering survivance efforts through the vehicle of parish schools, French Canadians negotiated relationships with other constituent groups within their culture and within the city of Holyoke. Survivance depended upon efforts of French Canadians to practice their religion, language, and customs, and on the relationships they forged with each other, their neighbors, their homeland, and their built environment. Religious orders, experiencing acculturation themselves, played a strategic role in the survivance efforts. The sisters' self-perception as emigrants among emigrants, and their identification with Quebec shaped their efforts as purveyors of French-Canadian culture. The schools and other parish buildings the French-Canadian immigrant community constructed served as visible cultural ties between Quebec and the Massachusetts mill town. Firmly woven throughout this Franco-American history is the cultural influence exerted by the geographic proximity to the ethnic group's homeland.

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