Calgary's Ukrainian Catholic convent closes after 62 years

With too few young nuns joining the order, the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate are downsizing. They are selling the convent building and moving out after serving their Calgary parish since 1953.

Sister Laura Prokop says no new nuns joining the order so the building will be sold

Sister Laura Prokop is the last nun at Calgary's St. Bernadette's convent. (Jenn Blair/CBC)

It's the end of an era for Calgary's Ukrainian Catholic community.

With just one 69-year-old nun left living in the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate convent, the order has decided to sell the building.

Now, Sister Laura Prokop is in charge of packing up the place and getting it ready for sale. She says the convent is closing because her order, like others around the world, is struggling to attract young women to take the vows of poverty, chastity and lifelong service.

"It seems that young people are hesitant to make that commitment," said Sister Laura.

"At the time when I entered, for women it was teaching, nursing, secretarial work. And now there's just a whole new world opened up to the young people, so this doesn't seem to draw them unless they are really centred on service to others."

History of the order

The order has convents across Canada, but their numbers are shrinking and their average age is about 70.

In Calgary, the nuns have been teaching school, visiting hospital shut-ins, and performing many other services in the parish since 1953.

Their convent, officially named St. Bernadette's Convent, was built by parishioners in 1967. It's plain brick building on the corner of 7th Avenue and 7th Street northeast, which parishioners simply refer to as 'the sisters' home. It's a block from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, its shiny domes a landmark up the hill near Memorial Drive and Edmonton Trail.

St. Bernadette's has always been small; at its height, the 3,387- square-foot, seven-bedroom convent housed just five nuns.

Since June 2015, Sister Laura has been its only regular inhabitant. When she first came to the convent in 2001, there were two other sisters living there, but for most of Sister Laura's 15 years living there, only two nuns remained. 

St. Bernadette's convent at 7th Avenue and 7th Street northeast is for sale in Calgary. (Jenn Blair/CBC)

The building has not yet been sold, so Sister Laura is staying for the time being.

Once her work in Calgary is done, she will go to Mundare, 70 kilometres east of Edmonton, to help care for other nuns in her order who are too elderly to continue in service.

Future unknown

Sister Laura doesn't know what the future holds for nuns. 

"We just take it a day at a time ... some of the Roman Catholic orders have actually slowly died out; no young people have come in. We at least have two or three that are young, so there's a glimmer of hope."

In other countries, notably Brazil and Ukraine, quite a number of young people are taking their vows to become priests and nuns.

But with record numbers of Ukrainians emigrating to Spain and Portugal, the demand for Ukrainian Catholic priests and nuns in those countries could mean that not many will be coming to Canada.


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