Lewiston’s Healey Asylum was one of several social institutions founded by Les Soeur de la Charite (Sisters of Charity), also known as the “Grey Nuns.”

The religious women came to Lewiston by train from Montreal, at the turn of the 20th century, to minister to the health and provide social support, primarily, for the growing French-Canadian immigrant population.

One of several institutions founded by the nuns was the Healey Asylum, a boarding school and orphanage for boys, located at 81 Ash Street in Lewiston.

Today, the brick building is called Intown Manor and is apartment housing for seniors.

Raymond A. Duval, 78, is a tax accountant and Brunswick resident who recalls some bittersweet experiences as a student at the Healey Asylum.

Duval was a boarding student intermittently, between 1942-44. He started in the fourth grade, when he was 9 years old.

Other schools he attended were St. John the Baptiste School in Brunswick and Cardinal Cushing boarding school in West Newbury, Mass.

Today, he owns a tax business in Brunswick.

“During the Great Depression and during World War II, our Franco-American society often sent our children to boarding schools,” he says. “These institutions were a mixture of orphanages and boarding schools. Many of the children went to boarding schools because their parents and siblings worked or were involved in World War II.”

Duval is the youngest of four children and six years younger than his next oldest sibling. Two older brothers served in the military, one in North Africa and the other in the Pacific in the US Navy. His father, Wilfred, worked at Bath Iron Works on defense projects. His mother, worked second shift at Brunswick’s Verney Mill, producing textiles.

“I remember the subject of sending me to Healey Asylum came up when my father was doing the ironing in the evening while listening to ‘Amos and Andy’ on the radio, while my mother worked the second shift at the mill,” he says.

“It’s not hard to forget the moment my folks left me with the nuns as they departed back home to Brunswick. I was taken by the hand and led to a large porch called the galaerie.’ It overlooked an asphalted play yard surrounded by buildings,” he recalls. “I was very close to tears as I surveyed the yard and my future home.”

Although the children and the nuns spoke French most of the time, the students were taught to speak in English as well.

Duval was given the number 54 as he joined the population of about 100 children who were in the post-kindergarten grades.

His belongings were stamped with that number. He was assigned a pigeon hole box called “le carreau” to store some of his personal belonging.

Memories like those shared by Duval about the Healey Asylum are being archived by Bates College French professor Mary Rice-DeFosse.

Rice-DeFosse collaborated with the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston to record a  video containing interviews with people who spoke about the Grey Nuns, including their experiences attending Healey Asylum.

Grant money received from the Maine Humanities Council helped to fund the Grey Nuns museum project.

Today, Healey Asylum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Androscoggin County.

Duval writes about attending Healey Asylum in the winter “Le Forum,” a quarterly publication published by the Franco-American Center at the University of Maine.  Contact Duval to learn more at: [email protected]

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