Sisters moving out

Nuns have heavy hearts leaving Notre Dame Convent for new home

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 3, 2014

Sr. Marie F. Arsenault, left, and Réjeanne Bourque sat down Monday to talk about how much they enjoyed living at the Notre Dame Convent in Charlottetown. With the convent closing Monday, all 20 residents have moved to Andrews of Charlottetown. 

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Sr. Marie F. Arsenault is leaving her happy place.

For the past three decades, the Notre Dame Convent in Charlottetown has served as a special home to the 92-year-old sister.

After years of teaching — first in North Rustico and later in Montreal - and then going on to serve as director of a kindergarten in Summerside, Arsenault settled into the historic building that first opened in 1857 as St. Anne's School and later became known as Notre Dame Academy.

This home has been immensely dear to Arsenault.

She spent 30 years living in the landmark four-story Empire style building on Sydney Street that overlooks Hillsborough Square. The many years spent at this convent provided a close, spiritual community that saw Arsenault sew for fellow sisters and decorate the interior of the large building, often with her own paintings.

"It will always be in my heart, this place,'' she says.

"It was the happiest time of my life.''

She left for a new home Monday along with 10 other sisters. The remaining nine residents leave today, transferring in total 20 members of the Notre Dame Congregation to Andrews of Charlottetown - a seniors' living home on University Avenue.

"It's very difficult for them,'' Sr. Joan Marie Chaisson, community leader at Notre Dame Convent, says of the convent closing its doors after 155 years of commitment to the community.

"Because we had been talking about it and planning about it for a year and a half,'' she adds, "gradually the sisters were able to resign themselves to going.''

The sisters, ranging in age from 74 to 92, met Sunday night for prayer and socializing. On Monday morning, before the big move began, Bishop Richard Grecco presided over mass.

Réjeanne Bourque, 79, had only lived at the convent for two years before moving out Monday. So she was not filled with great emotion over leaving behind the building, as lovely as it is.

In her short time there, however, she grew close to the staff, including part-time nurses, cooks and the maintenance man. They will not be making the move to Andrews of Charlottetown.

Bourque plans to continue teaching English to newcomers adding to an impressive life with the Notre Dame Congregation that saw the Quebec native teach in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, travel the country involving lay people in parish life, and working in prison ministry.

Bourque will be one of three co-ordinators for the Notre Dame community living at Andrews of Charlottetown.

She remains upbeat with the dramatic change in venue. She looks forward to getting involved in interfaith activities at the seniors' residence as her Notre Dame community moves in with the current Andrews community.

"I think we're losing something, it's true, but we are gaining something too,'' she says.