Canada : The Society of St. Pius X acquires a former convent near Montreal

Source: FSSPX News

The District of Canada of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X has just acquired the former convent of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary in the little town of Saint Césaire, sixty kilometers [37 miles] east of Montreal.  This “gem of Quebecois Catholic culture”, as it was described in an announcement by Fr. Jürgen Wegner, Superior of the district, was built in the mid-nineteenth century.

Upon arriving from France at the initiative of the Ordinary of Montreal, Bishop Ignace Bourget, in 1854, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary introduced devotion to St. Joseph by dedicating their convent as well as its beautiful chapel to him.  “In honor of local tradition”, the Society of St. Pius X decided to name it once again the “Saint Joseph Center”, a center whose “spiritual influence” should “spread far beyond the limits of the Quebec province”, Fr. Wegner said.  Initially this new house will serve as a priory for the region of Montreal, while the Society waits to see what other purposes may be assigned to it.

The Society has acquired a place steeped in history.  As the brochure introducing the Center indicates, the name of Fr. Joseph-André Provençal is inseparably tied to the origins of the convent.  The pastor of Saint Césaire from 1850 to 1889, “Fr. Provençal was considered by many to be a saint.”  Less than a year after his arrival, “that great apostolic soul decided to endow his parish with a convent to educate girls,” because “he knew that the heart of the population is reached most surely [for the purpose of Christian formation] through the woman and through the mother.”  In the spring of 1856 the parish priest blessed the first stone;  in September of 1857 the boarding school opened its doors and enrolled, from the very first day, 150 pupils.

Twenty-three years later, the chapel was blessed on October 24, 1889, by Blessed Louis-Zéphirin Moreau, Bishop of the Diocese of Saint Hyacinthe to which Saint Césaire belongs.  The walls and the ceiling are entirely covered with frescos, the work of the artist Joseph-Thomas Rousseau, who combined in them the Byzantine and Romanesque styles.  The structure of the nave is supported by eight Corinthian columns.  The frescos of the two cupolas of the nave, which have a Byzantine look, portray scenes from the life of the Most Blessed Virgin.  The sanctuary is surmounted by a baldachin and encircled by two paintings, one of the Marriage of Joseph and Mary, the other of the Holy Family.  In the side chapels the visitor finds beautiful crowned statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph.  In the middle of the chancel loft stands a Casavant pipe organ.  The Stations of the Cross are painted on the wall itself.  The chapel is provided with an imposing steeple, flanked by two smaller towers. Between the two towers, there is a niche in the wall with a statue of St. Joseph and the inscription, Ite ad Joseph, “Go to Joseph,” along with the date of the dedication of the chapel which was for many years a pilgrimage shrine in honor of St. Joseph.

For lack of vocations, the nuns sold the convent in the year 2000.  As is very commonly the case since the 1960’s in the Belle Province [Quebec], religious buildings are abandoned one after the other (see DICI no. 216).  Within the territory of the city of Quebec alone, almost 300 properties belonging to religious communities have been counted.  For the most part, these buildings date from the late 19th or early 20th century;  they are in danger of being demolished unless they can be “recycled” as condominiums, libraries, community centers or even town halls….  As early as 1996 the Collège Saint-André in Saint Césaire, built in 1869 under the auspices of Fr. Provençal, closed and was converted into a residence for senior citizens.

The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary had sold the convent and the chapel to an educational cooperative which fortunately preserved the character and beauty of the buildings and grounds.  On December 8, 2010, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this cooperative accepted the offer made by the Society of Saint Pius X to buy the property.  (Sources : FSSPX/apic/Radio Ville Marie – DICI no.229 dated February 5, 2011)