MABOU: After 131 years of service, St. Joseph Convent and Renewal Centre are closing.

“It wasn’t so much the finances of the building. It’s more so the poverty of personnel in these years that we face,” said Sister Rebecca McKenna, visitation province leader of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame.

Sister McKenna and her order operate the facility, which is located not all that far from the heart of Mabou. The centre is located on Macdonald Road, which is found just a short drive up Mabou Harbour Road. The convent is currently home to three sisters, and the centre offers space for retreats, workshops and other renewal programs.

In a press release issued last week, officials with the Congregation of Notre Dame stated the convent and centre will be closed on October 31.

The decision was not an easy one, Sister McKenna said.

“We had a two-year long consultation with people in the area,” she said, adding that last February a large number of community members met with the sisters to mull over how the facility could stay open.

“For our part, what we needed were sisters to rejuvenate the mission there,” she said. “We put a call out across the country and even internationally. Some of our newer members are open to intercultural living.

“The reality is that we are fewer, and the sisters who are available are already engaged in meaningful ministries. In discussing it with the sisters, we came to realize this is the time for us to be involved in smaller projects. There was a day when religious were the workforce for hospitals and schools, but that’s not needed as much anymore.

“The urgencies of the times change. We try to look at the signs of the times and respond however we can.”

The sisters currently at the convent will discuss their new destination with Congrégation de Notre-Dame supervisors. Sister McKenna said the closure of St. Joseph Convent will be difficult for the sisters and all who have used the Renewal Centre.

The Congrégation de Notre-Dame has had a presence in Mabou since 1887. Back then, the facility was largely used for education and as a residence for boarders.

This was followed by a new venture, the development of the family life program to meet the needs of a changing society, and more recently, St. Joseph Renewal Centre came into being to provide space for retreat and spiritual renewal.

During these years, the sisters collaborated with many dedicated educators, facilitators, clergy, parish ministers, volunteers, and loyal supporters.

“We wish to acknowledge the generous, dedicated staff who fostered the life and mission of the centre,” Sister McKenna said. “We didn’t do this work alone. We had the support of the community, the church, neighbour and clergy. We’ve been truly blessed.

“Sister Catherine MacEachern often says, ‘if these walls could talk, the stories they would tell.’ Those stories would be of growth, transformation, and the leadership that’s been developed in the area.”

The convent and centre will eventually be listed with a real estate service, but Sister McKenna said there are some preliminary considerations before that’s done. She said it’s the hope of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame that the facility will, in some way, continue to serve the community and the surrounding area.