At Ste Jeanne D’Arc, End of an Era

February 16, 2019
Monique Letendre leads a discussion of French impressionists. At right is Luke Van Horn. Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- Monique Letendre entered the Ste Jeanne d’Arc School as a kindergartner. The Lowell native said the school has been an integral part of her life -- not just in her early education, but in her professional and personal life.

“I really felt that I was being fully prepared for whatever life would present to me. I felt that I was being given the necessary educational tools to have a rich and successful life in whatever career I chose,” Letendre said. “I also felt that I was being given the spiritual tools to grow in my faith and being part of a Catholic Christian community.”

Now, after 32 years of working at the school, Letendre, who currently serves as assistant principal, is set to retire at the end of the school year. It’s a bittersweet time for Letendre, who said the school truly feels like home.

“I tell some of my students, I’ve never left,” said Letendre, of Dracut.

Letendre’s mother, seven siblings, their children and her own children have all attended the school, which is located on Dracut Street.

“It’s kind of a family tradition, Ste Jeanne d’Arc,” she said.

In the beginning of her career in education, she taught French in the Groton-Dunstable school system for a decade. When Letendre first came to work at Ste Jeanne d’Arc in 1987, she was a part-time French language teacher and served as the full-time director of Development to establish a development program at the school. She said, this was uncommon for Catholic elementary schools at the time. The program has since been renamed from Development to Advancement.

Letendre said it is important for nonprofit organizations to establish relationships with the larger community for financial support. Part of her work in development was also to establish a financial aid program for families that needed tuition assistance.

“I think that’s an important part of who we are. We reach out to not just those who can afford to pay the full tuition,” Letendre said. “Basically the Development program in addition to traditional fundraising allows people to invest in the mission of a school. We try to find different avenues for people to join with us in accomplishing what we’re trying to do here with the children.”

In 1990, she became the assistant principal as an opportunity to more fully engage with the school community and be part of the decisions that would impact the long-range success of the school.

Because of her commitment and tireless work for the Ste Jeanne d’Arc School community, Letendre is being honored with the Elisabeth Bruyére Award on March 28. Bruyére was the foundress of the Charity of Ottawa, the religious community that has staffed the schools for over a century. For over a decade, the award has been presented to different members in the Greater Lowell community who exemplify Bruyére’s generosity and openness.

Jacqueline Schnackertz, who now serves as the director of Advancement, said Letendre has been a great asset.

‘Everybody knows her’

“You walk around and everybody knows her,” Schnackertz said. “She’s been inspirational and supportive to the families and students and staff. The honor is well deserved.”

Letendre said she was shocked to be receiving the award and could think of many others who could have been honored this year.

“It’s a great honor for me to receive it and I’m very pleased and appreciative,” she said.

One of the highlights of Letendre’s career was when in 2010 the school received the Blue Ribbon School Award for its achievements in standardized testing, foreign language and science. She was able to travel to Washington, D.C.

“It was amazing. The Blue Ribbon really is a community award. It was like the whole school celebrating,” she said. “Everybody had worked hard to achieve that, so it was a great celebration of what we’re all about here at the school.”

One of the things Letendre will miss most is the strong collegial bond at the school. She said she will also miss the families who have become part of the school community and simply seeing the kids on a daily basis.

“I feel that this has been a growth opportunity, for me as much as for the students,” Letendre said. “I’ve learned so much about myself being here, about my faith and my hopes as an educator.”

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.

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