Rorate Caeli

Vatican II Springtime Update! First Ursuline House in North America abandoned by last sisters

In 1608, after decades of tentative exploration, in the name of the not very Catholic Henry IV, King of France, Pierre Dugas, Sieur de Mons, and Samuel de Champlain founded the City of Québec on a hillside overlooking the Saint Lawrence River.

The first years were extremely harsh, but in order for the colonization to advance, Catholic missions were always indispensable: and more than Catholic missions, Catholic sisters who could be a beacon for new families and, hopefully, help educate the girls born in this still almost wild environment.

The very Catholic Louis XIII signed the orders for the foundation of the Ursuline Convent in Quebec City in 1639, and the sisters who arrived not long afterwards, led by Saint Mary of the Incarnation, can be rightfully placed among the foundresses of Canada.

Before Vatican II

They faced wars and hunger, sometimes at the very midst of battle, as in the decisive Battle of the Plains of Abraham, but they endured it all. All, except the secularization that followed Vatican II. Because, if Quebec was indeed entering its own process of secularization when the horrible Council started, there can be no doubt that the secularization of religious orders forced from on top by the Vatican during and after the Council contributed more than anything else to the collapse of religious orders of men and women around the world. They resisted it all, and now, in 2018, they are shutting down for good.

And now all that is left is to report this tragedy (as we did about the Dominicans of Florence last week):

Daylight illuminates the monastery's long corridors, seeping through the old windows dotting its thick walls. The floor responds to the slightest step with an enveloping rustle, as today's Ursulines follow the footsteps of their predecessors. But this uninterrupted cycle that dates back to 17th-century New France is coming to an end.

In October, the majority of the 50 sisters who live in the monastery founded by St. Mary of the Incarnation will head to the Quebec borough of Beauport, where a new home for the elderly awaits them. For the first time in their lives, they will live with laypeople and members of another community, the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary.

"If we want health care until the end, if we want to be safe, if we want to be freed from administration and management, it was necessary to think about leaving the house," said Sr. Cecile Dionne, superior general of the Ursulines of the Canadian Union.

For many Ursulines, it is an opportunity to make an introspective journey on their lives as nuns, on the gift of their lives to God. Contemplating the vast chapel of the monastery, Dionne and two sisters recall the joy they felt during religious celebrations and the beauty of the songs they sang together. Their lives have been marked by Ursulines since their youth.

Sr. Pauline Duchesne, chair of the board, became a boarder at the Ursulines when she was a teenager.

"It was like a new birth. This is the first time I say it like that, but it's really what I live. These sisters gave me love, confidence in me, made me see that I had abilities," she said, adding that she was fascinated by the joy that emanated from the sisters.

Sr. Celine Bergeron, superior of a local community inside the monastery, said the Ursulines have always formed a big family, an experience they worked to perpetuate through the centuries.

The high ceilings of the chapel give way to a more intimate space, site of the tomb of St. Mary of the Incarnation, who established the Ursulines in Quebec nearly four centuries ago. The three sisters say they thought a lot about her and prayed to the saint who left everything in France, including a son, to go on a mission in the New World.

"We're leaving to go die elsewhere: We go to meet a new way of living our mission, which has always been to be with people," said Dionne. "Maybe today, we are called to join our brothers and sisters who, like us, are facing the challenges of old age.

Bergeron stressed that leaving their monastery is "a new crossing in our Ursuline life."

"We do it together. We will lean on each other. We do not know the mission that lies ahead," she