Sister Helen Hayes grapples to explain in a modern context her decision to join a convent when she was just 20 years old.
“Like any sister you ask, I think it was the desire to be with Christ above all,” she told Global News.
She admits it’s a choice few young women could understand today.
Until the late 1960’s, the Catholic Sisters of the Ursulines were cloistered from the rest of the world.
Evidence remains of an iron gate that once separated the nuns from the public during mass in their historic chapel in the heart of Quebec City.
“People still have a yearning for spirituality and depth, but it’s expressed differently,” Hayes said.
The history of the Ursulines in Quebec dates back almost 400 years.
Their superior, Saint Marie de l’Incarnation, is said to have had a calling.
She crossed the Atlantic in 1639 to start a school.
“It was especially the education of girls because the boys have always been educated,” Hayes explained.
The monastery was also a refuge during the battle of 1759 when it housed soldiers on both the English and the French sides.
It’s a piece of their history Hayes hopes people will never forget.
“I hope it helps to build bridges between the French and the English,” she said.
The monastery has been rebuilt and renovated several times.
It houses priceless artifacts and works of art – and for the next little while, will continue to be home to about 40 nuns who carry on the tradition of the founding mothers of Quebec City.
Now, they’ve been forced to make a difficult choice.
Their numbers are dwindling – the youngest among them is in her 60’s.
Though they’ve taken care of young girls throughout the history of Quebec, the aging nuns admit they will soon need someone to take care of them.
“It’s the situation like any in society: senior citizens getting older,” Hayes said.
Next year, the sisters will move from their historic monastery into a modern assisted-living facility.
Forever teachers, the sisters have one more lesson to give in humility.
“If Marie of Incarnation was able to leave France…and come to the new world with nothing in front of her, we’re able to leave this beloved monastery and go to a modern comfortable place a few minutes away,” Hayes said.