European explorers and traders began the historical heritage shared by Franco-Americans. In Maine and New England, the French presence is evident in history, culture, names, places and monuments.

“The French Presence in North America” is a course designed for the York County Senior College by Norman Beaupre, a Biddeford writer and professor.

In the six-week course, Beaupre will provide adult learners an overview of Franco-American history.  The curriculum will review events that connect Franco-Americans to historical events beginning 500 years ago, during the European struggles to settle North America.  The course begins at the Dyer Library in Saco on Sept. 28.

Beaupre is the past president and board member of the Biddeford Historical Society. He is a professor emeritus at the University of New England. 

“The French Presence in North America” is the second course about Franco-Americans for Senior College learners Beaupre designed and taught. 

“French history has influenced the history, and culture, of New England.  In fact, French history extends into many parts of North America beyond New England,” he says.

Short field trips may be included if students want to enrich their learning experience. 

“I will encourage students to take field trips to local sites, if they want to supplement the subjects covered in the six weeks of classes,” he says. 

Several texts will be recommended reading.  He will discuss Gerard Brault’s text “The French-Canadian Heritage in New England,” as well as “Immigrant Odyssey” by Félix Albert.  Michael Guignard’s book on the Francos of Biddeford is included in the readings. 

Voluntary readings will include excerpts from Beaupre’s books about growing up Franco-American.  Readings will be distributed from among Beaupre’s 14 books, like “Le Petit Mangeur de Fleurs” (The Small Flower Eaters”), “Deux Femmes” (Two Women), and “Deux Reves” (Two Dreams). At least one article will be selected from among those in Franco anthologies.  Some recommended texts will be in the original French translated into English, he says.

Beaupre grew up speaking French in Biddeford.  After receiving his doctorate from Brown University in Rhode Island, he returned to his hometown to teach at St. Francis College in Biddeford Pool.  After the college became the Osteopathic Medical School and the University of New England, Beaupre steadfastly worked with the administration to safeguard the Franco-American history and Roman Catholic religious roots of the original college and its two priest founders. 

In 1932, the idea of building a school for French-speaking Franco-Americans in Biddeford Pool began with the purchase of a small cottage on the Saco River.  Two priests and siblings, Fathers Arthur and Zenon Decary, were the school’s founders. The brothers came to the area from Quebec to build health and education services for Franco-American men and women who worked in the Biddeford and Saco mills.  They called on some of their personal family resources to build programs like St. Andre’s Home, Notre Dame Hospital, Marie Joseph Academy and St. Francis College.  Property purchased on the Saco River was intended to become a preparatory school for promising seminarians. They brought the Franciscan friars from Quebec to teach at the prep school.

Today, more than 3,100 students are enrolled in the University of New England and it’s many academic programs.

Among the projects that Beaupre organized to preserve the origins of UNE was securing a place on the campus to honor the Decary brothers. They are laid to rest, side by side, on a knoll just behind the UNE brick entrance.

Beaupre says people should know more about Franco-Americans, especially those who built social and educational institutions locally and throughout New England. 

“I hope people realize that ‘Franco-American’ means much more than a can of spaghetti,” he says.

Beaupre’s newest novel is “The Man With the Easel of Horn: The Life and Works of Emile Friant.” 

Information about “The French Presence in North America” is available from the York County Senior College, 110 Main St., Suite 1101, Island Point, Saco, ME  04072,  or call 1-800-696-3391.