FORT KENT, Maine — When Ralph Theriault returned to his hometown this weekend for the official launch of his historical book “Destination: Madawaska,” he was pretty sure he’d find a receptive audience.
What he wasn’t expecting was an impromptu school days reunion.
Halfway through Theriault’s presentation Saturday afternoon at the University of Maine at Fort Kent describing his French-English book’s coverage of life in the St. John Valley during the 19th century, one member of the audience had a sudden realization.
“I recognize you,” former Maine Rep. Ross Paradis of Frenchville said. “I knew you at the seminary.”
It turns out the two men were classmates at St. Joseph’s Seminary High School in Bucksport 55 years ago.
“When he started talking about his father, Theodule Theriault, and growing up in St. Luce in Frenchville, I knew who he was,” Paradis said. “I haven’t seen him since school.”
The two men have fond memories of each other and their days at St. Joseph’s.
“I remember Ralph as the strongest kid in school,” Paradis said. “He was a gentle giant [and] we all called him ‘Jumbo.’”
Paradis said it was a thrill to discover his old classmate had gone on to write his book.
“A lot of our alumni went on to do great things,” Paradis said.
Theriault agreed, recalling that fellow student Jerry Dube, now a university computers professor, once built a color television set back in the seminary with one of their teachers.
“That priest was a genius,” Theriault said of the science professor. “Before there even was such a thing as color television he and Jerry built one.”
Both men agreed they learned a great deal about life and academics at the seminary, though both remain struck by the more practical lessons.
“The main thing I learned was I was not cut out for the priesthood,” Theriault said with a laugh.
“Yeah, I learned I could not sing,” Paradis said.
About 50 people were on hand Saturday for the book’s launching and reception.
Published by the Societe Historique du Madawaska, the 75-page work uses maps, photographs and family histories to describe the life of Theriault’s ancestor Charles Theriault, the first Acadian settler on the lower Madawaska River in 1821.
Also included are accounts of other founding families such as the Plourdes, St. Onges and Morneaults and their contributions to building communities in the St. John Valley.
“Destination: Madawaska” is available through the Societe Historique du Madawaska by calling 506-735-4582.