2018-03-15 / Front Page

Lifelong calling

Nun celebrates five decades in service
By Molly Lovell-Keely
Managing Editor


Sr. Terry Gauvin in the public chapel at St. Joseph Convent in Biddeford. Gauvin has spent 52 years as a nun and some of that time at the former St. Joseph’s School in Biddeford. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) Sr. Terry Gauvin in the public chapel at St. Joseph Convent in Biddeford. Gauvin has spent 52 years as a nun and some of that time at the former St. Joseph’s School in Biddeford. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) BIDDEFORD – As a young person Sr. Terry Gauvin didn’t want to be a nun. Like everyone else, she said, she wanted to get married and have children.

“God had other plans,” said Gauvin, who grew up in Biddeford and attended Catholic school in the city.

Gauvin, provincial of Good Shepherd Sisters in the U.S. and executive director of Saint Andre Home, recently celebrated 50 years in the community. Fifty-two, she said, if you count her first two years in the postulancy.

“There was a relationship with Jesus that was always there since I was a little girl,” Gauvin said, adding that after high school she continued to pray and talk to God.

“He kept bugging me to enter,” she added. “So I said, ‘OK, alright, I’ll try it for a year or two.”


Rainbow, the parakeet that resides at St. Joseph Convent, is enjoyed by residents and even heard during public Mass on Sundays. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) Rainbow, the parakeet that resides at St. Joseph Convent, is enjoyed by residents and even heard during public Mass on Sundays. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) A licensed social worker and one-time principal of St. Joseph School in Biddeford, fifty-two years later she’s a resident at St. Joseph Convent on Pool Road where her latest work has her advocating for victims of human trafficking in her role at Saint Andre Home.

Gauvin’s work with women and youth began when she was in her early 20s in Massachusetts at a home for what was referred to as “emotionally disturbed children.”

“We were five young sisters then. There was a clinical psychologist who was wonderful – we learned a lot on the job, which wouldn’t happen today,” she said. “It was the late ’60s, early ’70s. The laws and regulations weren’t what they are now.”


Sister Lucille Gamache, left, is one of the residents of St. Joseph Convent. Gamache is a former principal at St. James School in Biddeford. Sr. Terry Gauvin was also eventually principal of the school. (Molly Lovell- Keely photos) Sister Lucille Gamache, left, is one of the residents of St. Joseph Convent. Gamache is a former principal at St. James School in Biddeford. Sr. Terry Gauvin was also eventually principal of the school. (Molly Lovell- Keely photos) From there she came back to Maine. Biddeford, in fact, where she worked at the local home/hospital for unwed mothers.

“That’s what you called it back then,” she said, adding that later in the 1970s it became more socially acceptable to be pregnant and unmarried, so her mission shifted to help those mothers keep their children in a group home setting.

“I helped them learn to care for their children and later set them up in apartments,” Gauvin said, adding that teachers at Biddeford High School even ran courses for the girls at the group home.


Sr. Terry Gauvin said this room on the second floor of St. Joseph Convent that overlooks the Saco River is a favorite among those who live there. The building also has small, private chapels, activity rooms, a kitchen and dining rooms and a small beauty parlor. Sr. Terry Gauvin said this room on the second floor of St. Joseph Convent that overlooks the Saco River is a favorite among those who live there. The building also has small, private chapels, activity rooms, a kitchen and dining rooms and a small beauty parlor. Eventually, as social norms shifted again, young pregnant students from the immediate area and throughout New England, attended classes at the public school in person, while assisted by Good Shepherd sisters.

All along, Saint Andre Home, which was started in 1940 by the Good Shepherd Sisters, served families through counseling, adoption, resource management and housing. In 2013, funding was lost because of state budget cuts and group homes throughout the state were closed. A restructuring happened and representatives now perform outreach, casement management and parenting courses from a former group home on Prospect Street in Biddeford.


The chapel at St. Joseph Convent is open to the public for Mass on Sundays. The facility also has other smaller chapels for the 28 sisters who live there. It’s oldest resident is 96. Part of Sr. Terry Gauvin’s job as provincial of Good Shepherd Sisters, which means she oversees the care the sisters receive at St. Joseph Convent. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) The chapel at St. Joseph Convent is open to the public for Mass on Sundays. The facility also has other smaller chapels for the 28 sisters who live there. It’s oldest resident is 96. Part of Sr. Terry Gauvin’s job as provincial of Good Shepherd Sisters, which means she oversees the care the sisters receive at St. Joseph Convent. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) “We were asked to open a group home for women coming out of human trafficking under the assumption there was a lot of funding available,” Gauvin said. “We’re finding out there isn’t.”

Saint Andre Home and Catholic Charities have partnered to apply for grants to aid the effort but so far, this chapter in Gauvin’s mission continues.

“People don’t believe it’s here,” she said. “A lot of people see it as prostitution but it’s very different. The women are abused and forced into addiction so they’re able to be controlled.”

At age 71, Gauvin is one of the youngest of 28 residents at St. Joseph Convent. As provincial, she oversees the needs of the sisters.

“Spiritual as well as physical,” she said.

Again reflecting on entering the convent, Gauvin said she had a brother who didn’t speak to her for two years and a cousin for three.

When Gauvin was a senior in high school her father died and family thought the best place for her was at home, with her mother.

“God didn’t listen to that one,” she said.

Gauvin said it was her years in social work that prepared her to eventually be a teacher and later principal at St. Joseph School, now St. James. What was supposed to be a one-year teaching position at the school turned into 11 years as a teacher there and five as principal.

“There went my plan to go back to social work,” she said, laughing.

In 1992, pastors in the parish decided to consolidate the community’s three Catholic schools – St. Joseph’s, St. Mary’s and St. Andre’s – and to not keep on any of the principals there.

“They were afraid of favoritism,” Gauvin said. “’Now what?’ I thought.”

What came next was a role in the youth ministry program in South Portland and a counseling position at Catholic schools in Portland and Lewiston.

“Again, I thought I was going back to social work but I was asked to be a principal in (Massachusetts),” she said, adding that she felt fortunate for the position, as she was able to incorporate her social work skills.

Gauvin has worked with students of all ages, including at the high school level, and said she used “tough love” to get through to students.

That’s not, however, the type of discipline that employed the use of a ruler.

“A lot of us never experienced that,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s a reputation that has stuck. To that I would say, I wish for you to think of the sisters in a different light and to think about everything they have done. They’re the ones who opened orphanages and nursing homes before society took over.”

Gauvin said she doesn’t have a particular age she enjoys teaching most – except the time she filled in for a kindergarten teacher at St. Joseph’s. “I was used to the junior high level,” she said, laughing. “That’s the lowest I had gone and I kept looking at the clock, wondering when the teacher was coming back.”

Gauvin said children haven’t changed since she first started working with him all these years ago.

“Kids are kids,” she said, with a smile. “It’s tough for me to answer that because I think everybody is different. Every child is different depending on family dynamics and how they were brought up.”

Gauvin said she can’t fathom that it’s been 52 years since she entered the community. When asked if there were any regrets over the years, there was only one.

“When I was named provincial I started to volunteer at St. Louis (Child Development Center) once a week, holding babies, feeding them, rocking them. When I became executive director of Saint Andre Home, I often had to call to say I couldn’t make it. I eventually had to give it up,” she said. “I know what it’s like to rely on volunteers.”

In Gauvin’s office at the convent, photo collages of former students decorate the walls. Many more are in storage. While Gauvin didn’t have children in a traditional sense, as she once intended, in her lifetime, she’s had a hand in raising many.

“These are my blessings,” she said, motioning to photos of former students. “All of you.”

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