Little sisters in Canada: News from Montreal

Our two communities in Montreal 2014Our two communities in Montreal 2014

All together celebrating Little sister Magdeleine.

For many years the little sisters of Canada have lived in two separate communities, one in a house in the heart of Montreal and one in an apartment complex in the nearby suburb of Longueuil. As they have advanced in years, most into their 70’s and 80’s now, they needed to find housing more adapted to their current physical needs, particularly as the long, harsh Canadian winters make getting around treacherous for a significant part of the year. They had the extraordinary good fortune to find apartments in a complex called Frontenac Towers in Montreal city, where one community live on the 11th floor and the other on the 6th floor of the same building and began their new life as two differently constituted communities, on a new adventure reaching out to the extraordinary variety of people who are their new neighbors. They describe their new home:

The three towers are from 15 to 17 stories high, with 784 apartments housing around 2,000 persons of all ages, races and nations. About 50 to 60% are retired now and some have their children living in one of the Towers. Among the new comers, there are people from different parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, West Indies and Latin America. We can call it “united nations’ Tower”. Bachelors, couples with young children, single parents and students make up the other 40%. Some have stable jobs while others find it difficult to make both ends meet with the economic instability and lack of employment.

The Towers were built between 1970 and 1972 with help from the Canadian government. After construction they were not adequately maintained and the place acquired a bad reputation. In 1978 the tenants got together and asked to take over managing the buildings themselves. They organized into a non-profit group with a specific mission: First, to provide housing for families and senior citizens of middle income; second, to administer the Towers for the benefit of the residents, and to provide support to seniors in order that they be able to stay in their normal living environment as long as possible; and third, to organize all sorts of services aimed at improving quality of life, both physical and emotional, particularly supporting people who would be in danger of losing their independence without financial help.

Some of the apartments were made handicapped-accessible; corridors and elevators are wide enough to allow for the use of wheelchairs and other mobility devices. On the ground floor there is a shopping center, pharmacy, post office, restaurant, ATM, hair salon, clothing stores, a florist, etc. Thus people can do their shopping without going out in the frigid winter weather.

Our chapelOur chapel

There are also 24-hour security guards, a day care center for children, and a communal television. There is a medical clinic and a Chapel in one of the towers. The Eucharist is celebrated 4 days a week, and on the first Friday of every month it is followed by a half hour of Eucharistic adoration. On the days without Mass there is a liturgy of the Word and Communion service led by a group of women. The chaplain lives on site, and he is quite close to the Little Sisters because he used to be a monk at the monastery of the Little Brothers of the Cross. He is simple and prayerful, and everyone appreciates him very much.

For us there are possibilities of getting involved in various forms of volunteer work, each one according to her capabilities and desires. One can accompany people to doctor’s appointments, bring communion to the sick or just pay someone a friendly visit. Some of us are involved in these activities already, while others work in the communal kitchen or help out with whatever needs doing in the Chapel. The administration really tries to listen to and serve the tenants, and there is a coordinator to connect residents in need with volunteers. There are all sorts of activities, like a writing workshop, singing, dance, Scrabble or Bingo games, which give people the opportunity to meet. In summer there is “pétanque” (a type of bowling game played in Southern France)and an outdoor pool that draw many people. The atmosphere is very homely and simple. Besides the elevator and corridors the laundry room serves as a better place to connect with one another.

We are near public transport, stores, a library, and…we have a fabulous view of the city. At night we can contemplate the thousands of glittering city lights, reminding us we’re “at the heart of the crowds” in order to give witness to Jesus Christ, the light of God. It seems we are “at the right place at the right time,” with a living situation adapted to our age and physical limits. God has really blessed us. Happily, we can still keep in touch with our old friends, by phone or by visits, even as we weave new bonds of friendship with the people around us here. We thank God for having brought us here.