LEWISTON – Even when Emilienne Nadeau is annoyed – fighting with an awkward oxygen line that tends to tangle around her ankles – she giggles.

“I’m always plugged in,” said the 65-year-old woman who stands a sprightly 4 feet, 5 inches. “But I’m optimistic. I always have been.”

A generation of local kids who learned the Ten Commandments from her liked her happy demeanor. And so, it seems, did Bishop Richard Malone.

The leader of Maine’s Catholic Church plans to award Nadeau with the diocese’s Immaculate Conception Medal tonight at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

She and nine other Mainers were singled out for their outstanding service to the church and their communities. The other honorees are from Augusta, Bath, Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Freeport and Fort Kent.

“I’m still pinching myself,” Nadeau said Thursday as she described getting the letter that notified her of her selection. “I can’t believe it.”

The medal, crafted by Milan artist Enrico Manfrini, carries an engraved image of the Virgin Mary on one side and the diocesan coat of arms on the other.

“Is this really happening?” she asked as she sat in her modest Lewiston home near Holy Family Church, where she has attended church all her life.

Never married, Nadeau raised her sister’s children. Through them, she became involved in the church’s Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, known as CCD. But when her niece and nephew graduated, she kept on, teaching children from 1972 to 1997.

She kept it up because she felt a sense of accomplishment when children learned.

“I would get so proud when they’d learn their Ten Commandments,” she said.

She’d go home feeling blessed. That’s why she continued and even expanded her help as long as she could, substitute teaching for three years at the church school. She also led the Cub Scouts for years. She remains on a scouting committee. And she lends a hand when she can, occasionally stuffing envelopes for fundraisers.

It’s difficult sometimes.

Her poor health, which keeps her connected to her oxygen hose most of the time, makes it tough to get out. She gets to church every week – “I can’t imagine not going to church on Sunday” – and she does her prayers when she cannot get out.

“I do what I can,” she said, giggling a bit.

Tonight marks the eve of the 150th anniversary of an event important to many Catholics. On this date Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl in Lourdes, France, and identified herself by saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

The Shrine of Lourdes is marking the anniversary with a commemorative year that begins Saturday.

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