The Decline of Canadian Nuns

According to The Globe and Mail, the numbers of the most faithful Christians in the forms of nuns is on the decline in Canada.

The news report spoke of several decades of decline in the numbers entering and staying in the convent. Some monasteries, as noted, go back as many as four centuries in Quebec. One is the Ursuline Monastery in Quebec City.

One woman, Andrée Leclerc, stated, “We know we are going off there to die…. This was my home, where I lived, I slept and I prayed. My whole life is here.”

There has been a massive decline taking place over decades in the numbers of the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec. The nuns would run the provincial schools and the hospitals. But those are going away.

The number of Catholic nuns peaked at 47,000 in Quebec in 1961 and now sits at fewer than 6,000. The majority of the extant nuns are in their ninth decade. The numbers, at face value, may not tell the entire story of the religious community.

If one looks at the 76% of Roman Catholic population numbers, and if one then looks at the level of those practising in a serious way, most are not practising in a serious way. It is a secular province and, overall, country and culture.

As reported, “With little new blood, Catholic religious orders are shrinking. The last novice joined the Ursulines in the mid-1990s. Only 215 nuns remain in the order across Quebec today, down from more than 900 in the mid-sixties.”

The origins of monasteries such as this one began as far back as a voyage from France in 1639. It truly is a remarkably long history for the religious institutions of the world, but it is also a story coming to an end or a transformation on many fronts.

“They set up a school that has become the oldest institution of learning for girls in North America. Centuries on, the École des Ursulines’ interior courtyard still rings out with the shouts of uniformed schoolgirls (boys were admitted in 2010 and a secular board took over four years later, a nod to changing times),” the article stated.

One nun, Sister Suzanna Pineau, was a boarder at Ursulines at the age of 8. She is now 82. She said, “We don’t wear makeup or jewellery. We’re not in the latest fashions.” She made some remarks about the Muslim veil, pointing to the 300 years of veils by nuns while no one said anything.

“There are difficulties in all walks of life…. I committed myself to the Lord, like others commit themselves to a marriage or to working for a company,” Pineau opined.

Their average age in the monastery is 87. It is an ancient collective of women who themselves are well into their elderly years. With the decline of religion in Canada, and in Quebec in particular, we are seeing the decreased prominence of once powerful institutional forces including the nuns in monasteries.

The nuns will be entering a modern facility in the fall with a forced downsizing to the Soeurs servantes du Saint-Coeur de Marie. In September, these nuns will make their last trip from the monastery to then begin a downsized life in another one.

Sister Andrée opined, “I’ll miss the soul of this place…. The idea of living differently brings tears to my eyes. It’s physical. It’s psychological. My entire being is affected. When I was a teenager I left my family home in the Charlevoix. Leaving here is harder.”

This becomes the trace of religiosity with the increased secularization of the province and, indeed, the nation of Canada. There are real people behind these declines, who have their hearts in these institutions.

Photo Credits: Reductress

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