The Sisters of Charity of Montreal, commonly known as the Grey Nuns, have sold their downtown motherhouse to Concordia University for CAD$18 million.
The sisters made the announcement at a June1 press conference, held at the university.
The decision to sell was motivated by the community’s continuing decline in vocations.
There are currently 250 sisters, whose average age is 82, living in the motherhouse, which was built to accommodate up to 1,000 people. Overall, there are 574 Grey Nuns in the province of Quebec; their average age is 77.
The property, which is prime downtown real estate, could easily have been sold for much more. But Sr. Aurore Larkin, SGM, said it was important for the sisters to sell their property to an organization which they believe is in line with their educational mission and one which would preserve the historical landmark, including the chapel, which was designated a historical site by the provincial government in the 1970s.
“Concordia University’s commitment to accessibility to all ages and backgrounds forms a natural alliance with the Grey Nuns,” the superior general told The Gazette. “It honors the mission of St. Marguerite d’Youville (the foundress) – a woman who opened her arms to all, regardless of gender, race or religious beliefs.”
Concordia intends to convert the 1871 convent into a fine arts complex. The university, whose student population numbers more than 30,000, will only move into the motherhouse over 15 years, beginning in 2007.
The move will take place in stages. Concordia will take over the west wing in 2007, the central section and the chapel in 2011, the north wing in 2018 and the south wing in 2022. The sisters will continue to live in the motherhouse throughout the move.
Most of the congregation’s artifacts have already been moved to the foundation house in Old Montreal. However, the tomb of St. Marguerite d’Youville is still in the motherhouse chapel. A date has not yet been set for the transfer of her remains.
Doing the right thing
Sr. Larkin explained that the congregational leadership received a mandate at the last general chapter in 2001 to assess the congregation’s properties and to sell the motherhouse, which was too large and expensive for the dwindling and aging community to maintain.
“This is a very emotional time for us,” the superior general told the Catholic Times. “But we have moved ahead knowing that we’re doing the right thing.”
Sr. Larkin said the sale does not mean an end to the sisters’ mission. They will continue their ministry, she said, it will just happen somewhere else.
The Sisters of Charity was founded by Marguerite d’Youville, a 28-year-old widow with two sons, in Montreal in 1737. She ministered to the poor, vagrants, drunkards and the sick, operating Montreal’s largest hospital at the time. The congregation soon expanded to the rest of Canada, the United States and Brazil. St. Marguerite d’Youville died in 1771. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1959 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990.