Diaspora

From Haiti to Woonsocket: A former student remembers Mount Saint Charles Academy – Valley Breeze

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Partly cloudy. Low around 10F. Winds N at 10 to 15 mph..
Partly cloudy. Low around 10F. Winds N at 10 to 15 mph.
Updated: January 20, 2022 @ 11:11 pm
Felix Pierre-Louis is pictured in the bottom row, second from right in his class photo from Mount Saint Charles Academy in 1958.
Felix Pierre-Louis plays shuffleboard with classmates.
Felix Pierre-Louis pictured today.
Felix Pierre-Louis is pictured in the bottom row, second from right in his class photo from Mount Saint Charles Academy in 1958.
Felix Pierre-Louis plays shuffleboard with classmates.
Felix Pierre-Louis pictured today.
WOONSOCKET – The stories have been told around dining room tables and occasionally in sports histories featuring this small, French-Canadian city in the Northeast: toughened Quebecois boys sent to boarding school at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, often to play hockey for the famed Brother Adelard Beaudet.
Not all of the school’s students in its historic boarding days came from Canada, though, and for many, the trip offered a chance to renew their education in a community very different from the one they left back home.
Felix Pierre-Louis was one of the many international students who arrived at Mount St. Charles via the recommendation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart when the school was in its boarding heyday. The 82-year-old, who now lives in Florida, reached out to The Valley Breeze recently to share his memories of arriving in Woonsocket in 1956.
“I arrived there accompanied by my mother and a cousin,” he said. “We arrived directly from Haiti via New York City. I was then a 16-year-old Black kid who knew only a few English words. A taxi took us to the Roman Catholic boarding school of Mount St. Charles, then after the regular formalities, I was happy to join four other Haitian kids.”
The first weeks, he said, were difficult as he struggled to bring his English up to speed. Classmates made fun of his French accent, and the comments only ended after he got in fights with other students. At the time, he said, there were only eight Black students in a boarding population of about 250, five of them from Haiti. Among the American students was a Philadelphia kid named Ed Bradley who would go on to become a famous journalist and host of “60 Minutes.”
Speaking French had its advantages. Pierre-Louis recalled selling chocolates bars downtown, where he was surprised to hear locals speaking the language he grew up with.
“When we Haitian kids went to take a walk in downtown Woonsocket, we were amazed that most of the people were speaking a mixture of English and French Canadian,” he said. “They took us for Black Americans, and they were amazed that we answered them in grammatical French.”
Pierre-Louis remained at the school from 1956 to 1959, after which time he went to live with his sister in New York. Though he didn’t graduate from the Mount St. Charles, his memories of the school remain strong, and he said he became fascinated with Woonsocket during his time living there.
Growing up in Port-au-Prince, Pierre-Louis said, it wasn’t unusual for parents who could afford it to send their children to boarding school in the United States. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart ran a school in the area, and the brothers would recommend American schools to families. He recalled other classmates who attended Mount St. Charles from Cuba and Venezuela. Yearbooks from around that time detail graduates from Latin America as well as cities across the United States.
After high school, Pierre-Louis worked in insurance and spent time living in the U.S. and Germany. He returned to Haiti for a few years, but his real passion was travel, and he spent most of his time seeing as much of the world as he could before settling in Florida.
“I’ve been all over the world. I think I am one of the Haitians traveling the most,” he said.
He returned to Mount St. Charles in 1968 for a visit but hasn’t been back since. Today, the school has revived its boarding school roots, opening a dormitory in 2019 to serve students in its elite hockey program. Students in that program have attended from Europe and Canada in addition to the United States.
Pierre-Louis said he was glad to reminisce about his time in Woonsocket, a few treasured years in a long and full life.
“My goal is to see it again,” he said.
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