Marcelle Marie Lareau of New Bedford was barely 13 years old when World War II broke out in Europe. She was only 15 when the United States entered the conflict following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
And yet, Lareau felt responsible for the global conflagration.
“She thought the war had begun because she hadn’t prayed enough,” said her son, Paul Lareau. “She really took personal responsibility in that sense. She was always so prayerful and would say to herself, ‘Maybe if I had prayed a little harder the war wouldn’t have happened.’”
That thought speaks to the sincerity and intensity of Marcelle Lareau’s religious faith. A baptized Catholic, Lareau attended Mass almost every day, praying for her husband’s safety – he was a New Bedford fisherman – and their children.
“I don’t think any young kids were in the kids doctor’s office as often as we were,” Paul Lareau said. “Any little thing, she’d march us right down there. She was always very attentive to our needs.”
Paul Lareau recalled that childhood memory even though he still found it extremely painful to talk about his mother, who died Oct. 7, 2020, from COVID-19 complications at St. Luke’s Hospital. She was 94.
“Some people will say, ‘Oh the age, it’s expected,’” Paul Lareau said. “But my mother’s family has a history of longevity, with many of her relatives making it into their late 90s and 100s.”
Years earlier, Marcelle Lareau had suffered a stroke. Though her speech was slurred, and her gait was slowed, Paul Lareau said his mother was still “very stable” and in command of her thoughts and faculties.
“She used to go out driving, and she really missed that after her stroke,” Paul said. “As her caregiver, we’d go out, and I’d tell her we would make an adventure out of the day. We’d go out to see the sun just to get out of the house. She was always ready to go somewhere.”
Born in New Bedford, the young Marcelle Marie Marcotte was beautiful and had a lot of friends, and suitors. She graduated from New Bedford High School and socialized with friends at Lincoln Park and the Sixth Bristol Social Club. She met her future husband, Marcel P. Lareau, at one of those popular hangouts. Their first date was on Christmas Eve. They dated for three years before marrying in 1953.
“She was in no rush to get married,” Paul said. “But my dad saw a gem in my mom. And he was very persistent, let’s put it that way.”
The couple had five children. Marcelle tried working out of the home a few times but found that difficult while raising five children and keeping an “immaculate” house, as her son described the family home.
“My dad being a fisherman and being gone a good amount of time, she ran the show,” Paul said. “She took care of everything in the house. She never stopped. She always kept going.”
Besides cleaning, Marcelle Lareau was an avid reader. She also enjoyed day trips and would often pack the kids into the car to head out to Plymouth. In her later years, she would volunteer to drive her grandchildren to their sports games.
“Spending time with family was a big deal to her,” Paul said.
Marcelle Lareau’s religious faith sustained her. She was a lifelong parishioner at St. Joseph Church in New Bedford’s North End, a member of the Legion of Mary, and a Third Order Lay Franciscan.
“She was very devout,” Paul said. “Her faith was the most important thing.”
Up until her early 90s, before her stroke limited her mobility and ultimately forced her into a wheelchair, Marcelle Lareau and her friends would attend daily Mass, and then go out for coffee and light refreshments.
‘And that would make her day,” Paul said. “She’d come home with a big smile and say, ‘Oh, my friends are wonderful.’”
Paul said he and his mother contracted the novel coronavirus around the same time last October, likely from a relative. She went to St. Luke’s Hospital on a Saturday morning with a high fever. She died less than a week later.
“The COVID was such a shock,” Paul said. “It really was so sudden.”
Marcelle and her husband, who died in 2010, are buried together at Pine Grove Cemetery. A longtime priest-friend celebrated her funeral Mass and said the eulogy for the “saintly lady” who was loved by those who knew her.
“She would light up a room when she walked in,” Paul said. “That’s what I’ll always remember about her; her joyfulness and her smile.”
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