The Past And The Future Woven Together

Thrifty French immigrants who worked in textile mills envisioned a cooperative that became Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union.
Catherine Siskos

In 1911, the tight-knit Franco-American community in Lowell, MA, established a small cooperative credit society in a neighborhood known as Little Canada to encourage frugality and economic self-sufficiency. Little Canada was home to an immigrant population that worked in the city’s textile mills, and although the Franco-American founders of that credit society didn’t know it then, they had created an organization that would still be thriving more than a century later.

That organization is Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union ($1.06B, Lowell, MA), the fourth oldest credit union in the country and third oldest in Massachusetts. Named for the St. Jean Baptiste Church, in whose shadow the cooperative was formed, the credit union officially opened its doors in February 1912. Staffed by volunteers working out of the church library, Jeanne D’Arc offered only limited hours at first, operating through the highly organized parish structure. At the end of its first year, the credit union had $6,063 in assets.

Its membership grew steadily, expanding out from Little Canada to an adjacent neighborhood and then over the Merrimack River before eventually migrating to the surrounding suburbs and beyond. Originally founded for the benefit of the Franco-American community, today the credit union is open to anyone who lives, works, or attends school in two counties and five municipalities in Massachusetts as well as two neighboring counties in New Hampshire. Jeanne D’Arc has branches throughout the Merrimack Valley and offices in several high schools.

Still, the credit union is keenly aware of its past. Even the credit union’s tagline, we share a common thread, pays homage to its thrifty founders who worked in the textile mills and relied on each other to form a cooperative venture, thereby sowing the seeds for intergenerational prosperity.

History has a way of repeating itself, says CEO Mark S. Cochran. We were founded by immigrant members of the Franco-American population to provide for their community’s benefit. And while Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union continues to serve descendants of those founding members, we’ve evolved and welcome Lowell’s newest immigrants as members.

This week, in honor of July 4, we invited five credit unions to share the story of their beginnings. Tune in each day to learn about another cooperative’s origins.

June 30, 2014

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