Marie Lagasse Fabbri '50 G
Growing up in Haverhill, MA, Marie Lagasse Fabbri ’50 never imagined that she would one day study art at a school just outside Florence, Italy. The oldest daughter of a hard-working, blue collar family would discover over time that taking risks and meeting challenges head-on can open up wonderful doors of opportunity for a life full of joy and excitement.
Marie learned how to engage her pioneer spirit from the Sisters of St. Anne. After attending St. Joseph’s Elementary School and St. James High School in the Haverhill area, she entered Anna Maria College as one of 25 students in the charter class. “At the time, my mother and father were hosting carnivals for various organizations,” she explains. “While working on a fundraiser for St. Anne’s Church in Marlborough, MA, my father learned about the new Catholic women’s college that was opening. He told Fr. Lavalle that he had two daughters that would attend, and we did,” she adds.
The first year of her college career, Marie remembers living in a large, auditorium- style room where 25 beds, dressers and desks were set up in a barracks formation. The second year, they moved to small house purchased by the Sisters and were able to live two to a room. As an art student, Marie attended classes in what she describes as a tiny room in St. Anne’s Academy. “We had to take our classes after the high school students went home,” she shares. “But that didn’t stop us from learning. The Sisters really persevered to launch Anna Maria College and their courage and audacity was contagious.”
Marie fondly remembers Sr. Louis Arthur and Sr. Madeline. In addition, as one of the only students with a car, she remembers driving Sr. Anne Eva to Paxton to view the property they would eventually purchase for the College. “I never studied at the Paxton campus, however, I was one of the first AMC students to see it,” she states.
After being the first AMC student to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Art, new doors began to open for Marie. Her sister Alice, two years behind her, was involved in a local organization that was planning a trip to Italy. Marie’s mother was nervous about her youngest daughter traveling this distance alone, so she insisted that Marie go along. “What began as a trip watching out for my sister, ended up becoming a life-changing experience for me,” claims Marie.
Prior to her departure, Sr. Louis Arthur wrote Marie a letter of introduction to the Pius XII Schifanoia School near Florence, Italy.
Sr. Louis was preparing the way for Marie to take the next step in her life journey.
So off to Italy Marie and Alice sailed in Liberte ships that were used to transport soldiers to war. “We slept in hammocks,” recalls Marie. “It was also the Holy Year and students from all over the world were traveling to Rome for this special occasion. I remember the road leading up to the Vatican filled with students carrying candles,” she adds. In addition to Italy, the Lagasse sisters traveled with over 1,000 other students to Germany and France for a six-week trip that cost around $1,000.
When she was in Italy, Marie took a chance and visited the Pius XII Schifanoia School with her letter of introduction. She decided then and there to take a risk and remain in Italy to study art. “The School was amazing,” comments Marie. “I studied with students from all over Europe in a setting that rivaled any villa in the country.” She studied oil painting alongside students who were taking classes in violin, history, and architecture. “It was a once in a life-time experience and if it wasn’t for my education at the feet of the pioneering Sisters at Anna Maria College, I never would have been able to seize upon this wonderful opportunity,” she adds.
While in Italy, Marie fell in love with a young physician, Alberto Fabbri. Although she returned to the U.S. after graduating, her heart strings kept her close to Italy and the man she would one day marry. Alberto was unable to come to the U.S. due to a challenging visa process so Marie traveled back to Italy. “It was too close to the end of World War II, and immigration to the U.S. didn’t always come easy,” remarks Marie.
In 1955, Marie and Alberto were married in the Polazzo Del Vecchio in Florence, Italy. A year later and after lobbying for help from then-Senator John F. Kennedy, Alberto was able to join Marie in the States. They settled in the Boston area where Alberto worked at Mt. Auburn Hospital and Marie painted in a loft in Coolidge Corner. They then moved to Wakefield and eventually Lynnfield, where they raised their four children.
Now a widow of 22 years and the grandmother of nine, Marie looks fondly back on her life. “I know that for a woman in the ‘50s, I took some risks and made a few courageous decisions,” she shares. “If it wasn’t for my Anna Maria education and the role modeling of the Sisters of St. Anne, I don’t know if I would have been as brave as I was.”