A new exhibit about the Canadian religious order that helped new Franco-American immigrants get settled in Maine in the early 20th century will be unveiled this spring at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston.

The exhibit – “Elles Sont Venues, Elles Ont Servi” (They Came, They Served) – will have a particular focus on the Grey Nun’s social service work in the Lewiston-Auburn communities.

Rita Dube, the center’s executive director, said she has worked for years to bring the Grey Nuns exhibit to fruition at the Franco-American Center.

“I’ve wanted to celebrate the enormous dedication of Grey Nuns to our community, because they provided social services and health care well before organized human services programs existed. Their effectiveness has not been fully recognized,” she says.

“The Grey Nuns were the backbone of the social services network in our communities before human service agencies were organized to help people,” says Dube. Known officially as the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the Grey Nuns were founded in 1737 by St. Marguerite d’Youville to care for the poor.

“In my judgment, the social services the French-speaking sisters provided was a kind of glue that bound the Franco-immigrant community with the church, their families and the community,” Dube says.

A group of nuns from the Sisters of Charity in St. Hyacinthe, Montreal, arrived in Lewiston by train early in the 20th century to help newly immigrated French-Canadians with health care and other social services. Among of the institutions founded by the Grey Nuns was St. Mary’s Medical Center in Lewiston.

The exhibit also draws a connection between the Grey Nuns charitable work for Franco-Americans and the stories of immigrants who have arrived more recently in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Dube says the exhibits will include videotapes of people who knew the Grey Nuns and benefited from their services.

It will open during Easter season in 2012, at a time when sisters from the order in Montreal can travel to Maine.

Meanwhile, recently hired marketing and box office manager Todd M. Richard is thrilled to be working for a cultural center where his family’s Acadian and French-Alsace heritages are celebrated.

“I’m energized by the community’s dedication to supporting the French and other cultural heritages, both in the performing arts and upcoming exhibits,” he says.

Along with preparing for the Grey Nuns exhibit, the Center is hosting a number of winter and holiday programs.

A Noel Francais (French Christmas) choral concert performed by the Down East Singers is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. and will include group sing-alongs of familiar French carols. The Maine Acadian group Ti-Acadie will also perform during the totally French concert. Tickets are $15 at the door, students under 18 are free.

The Franco-American Heritage Center is located in the former St. Mary’s Church on Cedar Street in downtown Lewiston, adjacent to Simard Payne (Railroad) Park.

More information is available at www.francocenter.org or call (207) 783-1585.