MONASTERY, ANTIGONISH COUNTY, N.S. - It’s about preserving history, faith and a place for a contemplative life and prayer.
That was the message coming from steering committee co-chairs Mother Gloria, delegate Superior for the Our Lady of Grace Monastery, and Dan Fougere, president of the Secular Order of Saint Augustine, as they spoke to the Casket Jan. 4 about the campaign to help finance the monastery’s purchase price and immediate work, at the cost of $800,000.
The Our Lady of Grace Monastery is located in Monastery, Antigonish County.
“The property sale transaction closed on Oct. 31. The deed and title to the property – not all of the property, 234 acres – was transferred to Augustinian Contemplative Nuns Society; that name is important because that’s the name of the registered charity,” Fougere said of the purchase.
“However, there was a mortgage put in place for 30 years, so the sisters have a 30-year amortization on the mortgage and could take up to 30 years to eliminate that debt. But the hope is the burden of that debt can be moved from the shoulders of the sisters well before that, hopefully through this campaign, so they can focus on their ministry.”
Fougere broke down the campaign’s money goal as to what would go to the mortgage and what part would go towards necessary work.
“Referencing the $800,000, $500,000 of that would totally eliminate the burden of the mortgage, which is part of the goal here,” he said.
“The additional $300,000 would fund the acquisition of two boilers plus some complimentary work that would be required to remove some old tanks and put in modern, safe propane tanks and a bit of work to the boiler house. It’s big enough to hold these but needs a bit of work.
“That would make the place functional but, in time, the vision is the monastery could, again, function as a retreat house.”
Letter starts campaign
Fougere noted the campaign was launched Nov. 21 with a letter from Bishop Brian Dunn sent to all the parishes in the Diocese of Antigonish.
“This year, I am appealing to you in a special way to support the Augustinian Sisters at Our Lady of Grace Monastery, the only cloistered community in Nova Scotia,” a passage near the beginning of the letter read. “These nuns have been present at Monastery since 2007. Since the early 1800s, this property was held as a contemplative presence.”
Dunn talked more about the “uniqueness” of a contemplative community in an interview with the Casket.
“In fact, they are the only ones in Nova Scotia,” Dunn said. “In order to keep them here, I thought that we would try to support them as best as possible. I think we need to recognize how important it is to have a contemplative community; it is a community that prays for all kinds of intentions,”
He talked about the importance of supporting the campaign.
“A lot of people don’t see the need for it, or don’t see the effects of it, but I do think the contemplative community is really important to the diocese and we would like to keep it there,” he said.
Noting the campaign was only a little more than six-weeks old, and that time period included the busy Christmas season, Fougere said it was off to a good start.
“I would say it has been very encouraging,” he said.
“When I wrote this briefing just before Christmas, we were sitting with $40,000 of funds collected. In spite it being Christmas and whatnot, we’re now up to $70,000; it’s incremental and that is what we expected.
“We know there have been collections taken in parishes of the diocese that have not been forwarded to us yet, and many of the organizations that we wrote to have boards of directors and they need to wait and have funding decisions of this nature approved by those boards; we think in the coming weeks there will be a continuing response to the appeal.”
Mother Gloria agreed.
“So far the response to the campaign has been very good but we’re hopeful that more is coming and there will be more supporting us,” she said, emphasizing appreciation for the strong support shown by Bishop Dunn throughout.
Why not relocate?
Fougere and Mother Gloria responded to the question of whether relocating to a more modern facility, one needing less work, was considered.
“[Mother Gloria] contacted me in early 2018, when she received notice the property would be put up for sale, and we started looking for a smaller convent,” Fougere said.
“Looking in the diocese for a glebe house, if I can call it that, which would be appropriate for their size and would enable them to continue their pray life; but we couldn’t find a suitable place.
“Then, in early May, word started getting out that the property was about to be listed for sale in a public way and there was an outpouring of support from the people; people from the diocese mostly, but even beyond the diocese who said we can’t let this monastery be sold to commercial interests, we need to save this monastery.”
He said as news of the sale grew, it was equaled by calls for support.
“When it went for sale online; that was when the outpouring of support really came. People said we need to step in and save this monastery. There were phone calls, emails, letters; so we put together a plan, a campaign, so we have a way to save this monastery.”
Mother Gloria noted the monastery is much more than just buildings and the grounds they sit upon.
“Our purpose it to maintain the historical monastery as a place of worship, a place where people can encounter God, where people can bring their problems to, the monastery is considered a sacred place; that is actually the most important thing as to why we are there,” she said.
“Some people say, why would we fund the old monastery for just six sisters, but it’s not just about us, it’s the sacredness of the place. We feel, in our hearts, why we remain is, we believe it’s the divine way that we should remain at the monastery to do the work of God. To worship God there, to praise God, to thank God on behalf of the people throughout the world, people in the church and, in particular, the people here … because a contemplative life should be everywhere, in every place.”
She noted a second priority after the heating situation being addressed would be work on the retreat house because they’re already receiving calls about when it will be ready.
The co-chairs noted the 10-person steering committee is made up of representatives from New Glasgow to New Waterford and everywhere in between, and one of the first objectives was to create a strong web presence for the campaign.
“A lot of time was spent developing the website (ourladyofgracemonastery.ca),” Fougere said. “We thought in today’s age of technology and communication, we needed a way to contribute electronically with people, and a way for people to respond electronically.”
“We tried to tell a compelling story of how the monastery came to be, where it is and what it is today, and why it’s important for people to support the campaign.”