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Corinne Rocheleau Rouleau

MRS. WILFRID ROULEAU-CORINNE EVANGELINE ROCHELEAU -was born (1881) and brought up in Worcester, Massachusetts, where her parents and grandparents on both sides of the family have been established for nearly a hundred years. She had a normal and happy childhood, among her brothers and sisters, four of whom are still living. In her ninth year, deafness developed, progressed swiftly, and soon grew almost complete. In. spite of the best medical care, prolonged for years, deafness has remained practically total.

There followed a period of schooling in American and Canadian convents, the most fruitful years being the four spent at a school for deaf girls conducted by the Sisters of Providence in Montreal, where she received private lessons from two expert teachers, one for French and one for English, while a third taught her to regain her lost voice and to become an expert lip-reader, which soon followed. Then she was sent for a year to a private school with hearing pupils, and to the Art Museum of Worcester for classes in drawing. Later, there was a year of travel and study in Europe. From which it can be seen that her education was not entirely academic. But it fostered in her a great taste for study, an appreciation of fine things, and the feeling that, lacking a college degree, she should go on studying and learning practically forever, which has been her schedule ever since.

It might be pertinent to add here that her mother, a church organist, had given her piano lessons very early, so that, when deafness closed down on Corinne permanently, she had had four years of precious initiation in musical "primaries," so to speak. Although this made the first few years of deafness doubly hard to bear, eventually it made matters easier and pleasanter for her, since she could understand, without looking too blank, what people meant when musical matters were mentioned. Her excellent memory carries to this day a collection of airs, old songs, and hymns held over from childhood days.

While still in her teens, she lost both father and mother. She and her four sisters kept house together; a married brother occupied the other half of the family home. Two sisters having married and gone, Corinne for the next seven years, acted as housekeeper, counselor and first friend to her two youngest sisters, still at school. After which she decided to fend for herself. She attended a business college for a refresher course, then presented herself for Civil Service examinations. Having passed, she was appointed clerk in the research department of the Census Bureau in Washington, D. C., where she stayed for two years. The climate of the Capital not agreeing with her health, she reluctantly resigned and left work and a city which had altogether satisfied her. Returning to Worcester, her brother (H. Oscar Rocheleau, later and for twelve years high sheriff of Worcester County, the first and only Catholic sheriff that old Yankee baillwick has had since Colonial times), asked her to take over the office of one of the several clothing stores owned by the Rocheleau family in New England. This she did without much enthusiasm, but there she remained, nevertheless-and soon as a full partner-for seventeen years, or until the recession and depression which swept the country in 1928-29 also swept that store from the street where it had held open doors for nearly half a century.

Now pretty well cleaned out as to money, but still undaunted, although in her forties, she went back to her Montreal convent school for another refresher course, this time in rest and meditation on ways and means. This convent school has played an important part in her life. She had returned to it year after year for a sort of continuation course in voice culture, since it is necessary for people totally deaf (and she has never used a hearing aid) to give continued care and much attention to the speaking voice, if they want to acquire and retain a normal one. Her old teachers always received her with open arms, and the pupils looked up to her with a sisterly curiosity, while she willingly shared with them the experiences of her own life "outside," in a more worldly and strenuous area.

Last but not least, she found in Montreal her best guide and wisest mentor in the person of a former chaplain of the school, then auxiliary bishop of the Canadian metropolis, Mgr. Alphonse Deschamps. Himself an excellent educator, he had directed her in her studies and also encouraged her to do research work along educational lines, especially about the deaf-blind-those little known but very numerous "Helen Keller cases," as they are sometimes called. This had already led to her writing an extensive biographical study of one such case, a peculiarly difficult one, successfully dealt with at the Montreal school. This story of little Ludivine Lachance, titled Hors de sa Prison, was published in Montreal in 1927 and crowned by the French Academy the following year.

Back in Montreal for a sabbatical year imposed by the depression, she put the finishing touches to another work, done in collaboration with Miss Rebecca Mack, of Cincinnati, a woman who had long specialized in work for the blind. This volume, intended primarily for teachers of the deaf and blind, was titled Those in the Dark Silence (Volta Bureau, Washington, D. C., 1930). In the same month of July, 1930, Miss Rocheleau addressed a meeting of the American Association of Teachers of the Deaf, in conference at Milwaukee.

Then she decided she had done about enough social work, and had better get around to living a normal family life at last, her tastes having always been domestic anyhow. The following month, August, 1930, she married Wilfrid Rouleau, a retired chief examiner for French and Spanish work in the Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., where they returned to live.

The years in Washington were the happiest in her life. And there was still time for a few of the old interests: as chairman of a committee of the Volta Bureau; as translator and proof-reader for publications of the Department of the Interior and the Pan American Union (now the Bureau of American Republics); for longish articles written on various subjects; for lectures before educational bodies in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. But always there was the glad return home.

But some things are too perfect to last. Death took her husband in 1940, and she returned to the Montreal convent school, where the Sisters also maintain a sort of French style "pension" as an annex. There she spends much of her time, varied by stays in the United States.

And there is always work to do. At the request of the school authorities, she gave a three-year course of lectures in the teacher-training department. This course has been mimeographed for future use. She also revised, brought up-to-date and translated into English her Hors de sa Prison. In 1947 she was asked to speak before the century old Societe Historique de Montreal, the meeting being presided over by the president of the University of Montreal, Mgr. Olivier Maurault; and her address was later published in the Bulletin of the Franco-American Historical Society of Boston. For the sum total of her works she was presented with the Grand Medal of Honor of this Society in November, 1947.

In 1948 Longmans of Toronto published her first novel, Laurentian Heritage. It is a story of the peaceful and picturesque way of life led by the well-to-do French Canadian country folk before the turn of the present century, and which remains even today much the same in its essentials; a way of life familiar to the author, the sixth generation of whose relatives still own~ and cultivate the land they bought from the Indians in the 1700's.

And so, most of the time, straight down the long years it has been working, studying, reading, writing,-with a quiet zone for meditation. All of that has brought her a deeper, more sympathetic understanding of human nature, fine contacts, some precious friendships, much generous appreciation from various sources, and the intimate feeling that her own life has not been useless. This makes for contentment, since it seems to her that these, with the Faith that lights and warms them all, are the main ingredients of what we call happiness in this world.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors

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