In 1936, a young altar boy served at the dedication Mass of his newly constructed church, Sacred Heart in Lawrence, Mass. The hardships experienced by French- Canadian immigrants during the Great Depression underscored the personal sacrifices made to build this church. His mother hosted whist parties, donating winnings to the building fund. She was not employed. His father was ill. His sisters worked as maids. Little did this boy know at the time that his life would come full circle in 2010.
Teenage years are transformative; for Alfred Therrien, even more so. At 15, he left school to work in local mills. Trouble in Europe brewed, and those close to him were enlisting. Because of his father’s illness, he was eligible for a deferment; nonetheless, he enlisted at 19 and became a 166th combat engineer. On Aug. 7, 1944, his unit landed at Utah Beach, where he kissed the soil of his ancestors’ homeland. They moved along the Seine, building bridges for troop transport. On Sept. 30, 1944, PFC Therrien was wounded by an explosion that took the life of a fellow soldier… and Therrien’s sight. But for a few feet on a hillside in Moyenvic, France, Therrien’s life story would be much different.
Therrien returned to the United States realizing a typical life would be impossible. Friends contacted the University of St. Thomas’ president advocating for his admission. In September 1948, Therrien arrived, at 25, among many veterans eagerly using GI benefits.
His journey from the battlefield to a college campus was a profile in courage, as two years of his life were spent in hospitals and rehabilitation. Therrien studied with the help of student readers. Many became lifelong friends. One, Robert Reardon, filled in when others couldn’t. Reardon never once accepted compensation for his reading.
After graduation, Therrien married Aline Tellier, and his family returned to Lawrence and Sacred Heart parish. He served on the parish council, and his daughters attended the parish school. He enjoyed a career in social services until retirement in 1979.
In 1975, daughter Michele enrolled at the College of Saint Catherine. While Therrien had remained in contact with college buddies, his daughter’s presence in Minnesota and marriage to a Tommy would bring him back many times over the ensuing years. No visit was complete without a trip to St. Thomas. Therrien credited his alma mater for his deep faith and love of learning.
Imagine his surprise in 2010 when he learned that stained glass windows from his beloved but now closed Sacred Heart were gracing Albertus Magnus Chapel at St. Thomas! Therrien and son-in-law Thomas Spencer ’76 immediately visited the chapel and later returned with others to regale Father Keating with his personal history of Sacred Heart. As he was guided from St. Joan of Arc to St. Louis, King of France, St. John the Baptist and St. Augustine, touching each, he expressed joy that two of the most influential places in his life now were linked forever. He later recounted to his beloved family that he again had “seen” the beautiful stained glass windows of his boyhood church.
On Nov. 13, 2011, Alfred Therrien ’51 passed on to his eternal reward after a remarkable life animated by his Christian faith.
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