Convent's plea for new windows goes sideways

The City of St. John's will take another look at a convent's request to replace its windows with ones that would be easier for its elderly nuns to open.

Application will get second look; committee was unaware of complaints by nuns

Sister Sharon Fagan, congregation leader for the Presentation Sisters, says she hopes the city will reconsider its rejection of windows that open sideways at the convent. (CBC)

The City of St. John's will take another look at a convent's request to replace its windows with ones that would be easier for its elderly nuns to open.

There are three different types of windows in the 161-year-old Presentation Sisters' Mother House, which backs onto the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in downtown St. John's.

But many of the windows open vertically, and are too heavy for the sisters to lift.

The convent made an application to the city to replace those windows with ones that slide open sideways, but that request was rejected, based on the city's heritage guidelines.

Sister Sharon Fagan, congregation leader for the Presentation Sisters, said she appreciates why those rules are in place, but said there should be room for compromise.

"We do want to continue to keep the heritage piece," said Fagan.

This is not a business, this is a residence.- Ward 2 councillor Jonathan Galgay

"That's important to us as well. But we also know that for practical reasons right now, we have to consider the needs of the sisters."

Fagan said the city and the convent have been able to find middle ground in the past, but she conceded the application to replace all of the windows, and the reason for it, is unique.

"This has just been an unusual situation. I don't know when we've probably ever asked to replace so many windows at one time, and I think that's been one of the major factors in this particular situation," Fagan said.

She said she was taken aback by the initial rejection, but has a theory as to why.

"I don't know if it was so much a surprise as much as ... we're not sure that they understood clearly what our proposal was, and why we were doing what we wanted to do, so that it would be helpful for the sisters. I don't know if they understood the seriousness behind that. I think they just received the application saying we wanted to replace windows. So I think the clarity, now, maybe is going to help."

The issue was raised earlier this week at the regular city council meeting by Ward 2 councillor Jonathan Galgay. The convent is located in the ward.  

"This is not a business, this is a residence," said Galgay.

"This is a home. It's not a new home. It's one that is 161 years old. If we were looking at a new construction, I wouldn't be standing here today. But I think we have a civic responsibility. The sisters have been doing work in our community for more than a hundred years. They have been great stewards of historic preservation and I really think the city needs to sit back and reassess."

The Presentation Sisters say this type of window is too difficult for its elderly nuns to open. They want all the windows at the convent replaced with ones that slide sideways. (CBC)
Fagan, meanwhile, noted all of the 50 sisters at the convent are over the age of 70, with most in their 80s and 20 being cared for in the nursing unit.

"So there's also concern there for the nursing staff. We don't want injuries associated with trying to open windows that won't open," said Fagan

"And for the sisters, it's a physical impossibility for them to raise these windows. And we again are into safety issues. Their bodies can be feeble for these kinds of things."

Fagan also noted it was the sisters themselves who initially brought the issue to light.

"They couldn't get their windows open, and they were finding their rooms were too hot or too cold because they couldn't get them closed. So, more work for our maintenance people, who've been trying to fix these windows, and it's just becoming more costly because it's involving more people."

Members of the city's heritage committee have told CBC they did not know the nuns were unhappy with their decision.

While the application is going back to the committee for reconsideration, it's unclear when a decision will be made.