1958 A DAY IN CONVENT LIFE FROM A CHILD’S VIEWPOINT


Before writing I researched the internet for information to assist me with my memory. I found:

Notre Dame de Lourdes parish was created in July, 1874 and named after the 1858 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, France. The first pastor was from Montreal. Notre Dame de Lourdes is a Roman Catholic parish in Fall River, Massachusetts. The parish was established to serve the growing French-Canadian population located in the city’s Flint Village section. Since its founding, the parish has occupied three different church buildings; a wooden structure (1874–1893), a spectacular granite church (1906–1982) which is the one we went to for Sunday mass, and the current modern church since 1986. The parish complex over time has also consisted of other multiple buildings, including St. Joseph’s Orphanage, The Jesus Marie Convent, a school, the church rectory, the Brothers’ residence, and the former Msgr. Prevost High School. The parish also includes Notre Dame Cemetery, located in the city’s south end. I would love to hear any stories or information about this place.

 

 

Convent of Jesus Marie

 

 

When the New Year arrived my mother sent my sister and I to Jesus and Marie Catholic Convent on 138 St. Joseph’s street in Fall River near the seven hills. Not only have we lost our father but now our mother is sending us away. She is keeping my baby sister who is a loving soul that can provide her some comfort at this time. We will be here for the rest of the school year. I do not remember her visiting us. The memories of this time are clouded with feelings of loss, abandonment, and loneliness. To this day driving on those seven hills feels like my stomach is rising up at the same time my body is coming out of my seat, it happens to be a trigger, a reminder.

 

She was following her mother’s example: my mother and her sisters were placed in Mount Saint Francis Orphanage in Woonsocket, RI when their father died then later to St. Joseph’s Orphanage, and taken out when they got to working age. What is interesting is that St. Joseph’s is across the street from Jesus Marie Convent. All three places were focused on keeping the French culture alive with Nuns from Quebec, where my mother and my ancestors are from. This is an example of mother/daughter influences, a mother the soul chose, in order to learn lessons on planet earth; to evolve our human consciousness as part of a human family. An attitude of non-judgment and acceptance can be developed and can lead to “The Truth”, letting go of the desire to change it, will lead to the practice of living in the present moment, otherwise known as “Mindfulness”. Like the Beatles song “Let It Be”!

 

The Convent houses the nuns in addition to a boarding school for girls. The 4 story brick structure is situated in a northeast/southwest direction, there is a tower with a steeple on top, next door is a small schoolhouse. As I enter the foyer, right in the center of the building, I am overwhelmed by the immense wooden interior, for many trees have given up their life, and they have been honored with beautiful craftsmanship everywhere on walls, ceilings and floors. Right before me is a gorgeous staircase with fancy carved banisters and large landings, leading all the way up to the roof of the spire. Inside alcoves are religious figures and paintings; now the Lady in Blue is all around me. The only sound heard is feet moving on the stairs and echoing throughout the building empty of voices. Spirituality, at this point, is about developing a stronger relationship with the Lady of Lourdes who is the protector of children and she remains with me still.

 

My living quarters at Jesus and Marie Convent are furnished with a single bed, a small wooden writing-table with one little draw for writing supplies, a small wooden 4 drawer dresser for my belonging, and a stiff wooden chain. These things are all contained within a cubicle that is slightly larger than the bed, made of plywood on 3 sides; one side has a rod with a curtain for the limited privacy that I seek, that is only drawn when changing. I keep it very neat and clean for the Sisters always have us active; it’s not hard work because it’s always spotless.

 

My cubicle is one of many; there are up to 400 girls living here. I sleep on the 4th floor which contains many rows of cubicles that get lost in this humongous room with the high vaulted ceiling, beautiful shiny and slippery hardwood walls and floors, with the scent of lemon oil taking over any other smell that may try to invade this space.

 

There are doors at the far end leading to 2 other rooms. On the left side is the larger of the two where the younger girls sleep, including my sister. It is a large dormitory area and smack dab in the middle is a raised platform where a large bed is surrounded by a metal frame with white curtains drawn back, exposing the Nun’s domain. There is a small empty space around the central ruling place of power. There are many rows of cribs in a square formation around the major throne area where the toddlers sleep. On the outermost parameter is a multitude of twin beds going around the room and out to the 4 walls.

 

To the right is the sick room where the ill are isolated from the healthy girls, in this room age does not matter. I am lucky I am physically healthy so I don’t have to have that experience. My sister gets sick frequently and at night I can hear how mean they treat her and my heart breaks for her. I try to visit but I can only stand in the doorway. The fear of germs is heavy in the air with the smell of disinfectant creating an unseen barrier that is stifling. I am saddened by our separation; we had shared everything up until this time, always together, till now. I need her as much as she needs me.  By Experiencing a desire to care for another and to lessen the suffering continues to push caregiver goals that will lead to nursing and awareness of humanities need to break out of the chains that bind.

 

I’ve now lost connection with my sister and it contributes to my loneliness and isolation. I am going inside myself, seeking safety and comfort. I have a small transistor radio that keeps me company; listening to music when alone, outside under the trees, playing on the swings. This is the beginning of using music for healing. I gravitate to swings wherever I find them; for that feeling of freedom while reaching for the sky creates a breeze that surrounds me with hope. My relationship with the trees becomes stronger and anchors me to the earth. Going inside and being with myself has made me OK with the process that is required for meditation and contemplation. These things have become major coping mechanisms that are important part of my daily self-care approaches.

 

In the morning I wake up to the sound of bells being shaken by the sisters; hand bells with wooden handle, a brass bowl with a clapper, breaking the silence, telling me what move on. Starting with a pray at my bedside, washing up, putting on the school uniform, straightening up, making the bed with hospital corners, putting everything away, making sure nothing is left out, even the shoes have to be hidden under the bed all neat and tidy. There is a lot to be said for using prayer to start the day and having some structure in daily activities, which I still maintain today.

 

The frantic ringing of the bells informs us that it is time to leave. Once everyone is in line we head down the stairs to the chapel for mass and prays we rarely sit on those hardwood pews, mostly we are on our knees. One embarrassing time, in a quiet moment of pray, flabbergasted that I could not hold back the released of gas, it reverberates through God’s house and later there will be a joke made about it. Laughter is so important for healing, to lighten up and see the funny side of things. Being a serious person and having developed the skill to laugh at my-self brings balance to my being.

 

After mass we file out onto the landing before proceeding down the stairs to the dining area and kitchen. We girls do all the cleaning, preparing, cooking and serving of the meals under the supervision of the nuns. The hardest is stirring the large pot of Oatmeal on the stove burner, with a large wooden spoon, and for us short ones it requires a stool to stand on. The tasks are rotated so we all get experience at all aspect of kitchen life. I anticipate the clanging of the bells that announce the end of the kitchen work. I enjoy preparing healthy meals for myself and others which is something I have done since 4 yrs old. When overwhelmed this gets to be a difficult task and them I am grateful for those who feed me whether it’s a restaurant or my husband.

 

We put on our coats and walk next door to the school-house, breathing in the fresh air feeling energized and connect to life. Our morning classes are in French which is new to me because my mother only spoke it with the adults. I feel anxious and inadequate, not understanding a single word spoken and English is forbidden. I am relieved as I hear the school bell clamors for lunch time. A small meal is prepared by the school, it’s a blessing that it is done for us, and we eat in silence. There is a brief recess before returning to class. In the afternoon all the subjects are taught in English and I can get lost in mathematics and am proficient in the subjects taught helping my self-esteem. The dismissal bell tells us it’s over and to get our coats for our walk back to the boarding school. Reading, writing, education and learning provide great resources for my development and evolution and plan to continue till my dying days.

 

Back in the kitchen and cafeteria we prepare the dinner meal, serve it then clean up the mess. Exhaustion takes over and when the bells ring in the evening I am blessed with free quiet time. Sometimes I write at the small desk sitting upright reminding me of mother saying “Straighten Up” while I get my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Journaling is another tool; years of diaries help me have perspective on my life, for I have found my memory appears to change over time creating a story which is different but also valid.

 

The bells gentle inform us that it is time to prepare for bed, washing up, putting on nightgowns that are infused with the energy and feel of home, hanging the uniform over the chair, and bending in pray before getting under the covers. “Light Out” echoes as I am left with my thought and feelings, tumbling down, surrounding me in darkness, unable to see what is. Night time symbolizes the dark night of the soul, having to go through the process to get to the other side as the light of spirit leads the way.

 

Readers, do you identify with any part of my story, whether it’s an experience, a feeling or a response you have developed on your own path? What is your story of suffering, of turning pain into lessons for your own self-development, integrating self-care in your life? Have you written it down or fearful to do so? What is your story calling you to do, what is your heart asking you to do? Your story has to do with your purpose, mission and meaning in life, where is your intuition, your inner voice leading you? We can collaborating by getting our stories out there and contribute to a new way being, join me.

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38 thoughts on “1958 A DAY IN CONVENT LIFE FROM A CHILD’S VIEWPOINT

  1. You pretty much summed it up. I remember that big staircase, the cafeteria, and the sleeping arrangements. I was so jealous of you with the semi private bedroom.

    I slept in a crib at age 7 in a large room with lots of other girls. In the morning waking up to that bell. Putting cold water in the pitcher that was in the large bowl and brushing my teeth sooo cold . Hate it to this day.

    I loved breakfast. Always the same oatmeal, toast and juice. If you received goodies in the mail you could get one after dinner.

    Always sick. I spent alot of time in that sick room. Those Nuns are brutal. How do you care for a child with Asthma ???? You give them enemas !!!! No wait, you put their head over a pan of water with vicks in it , put a towel over her head and say breathe. Sometimes the Nuns even made me eat vicks.

    All said and done, one of the Sisters always called me her LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE.

    Love,
    Your Sister

    • My mother was at Mount Saint Joseph Orphanage . Her name was Jacqueline Levitre. However she could have been there under another name as I believe she was somehow hidden there. My mother was born in 1928 and I believe she was there from 1933ish till her mother sent for her in 1940ish and my mother took a train to Saint Petersburg Fl. The confusing part is that no one in her family….brother who was 8 years older, father, etc… ever went to visit her. She said she was so lonely and would cry. I wish I could find someone who had known her. I attended Notre Dame School from 1963 Kindergarten till about 1969. I grew up across the street. The church yard was my playground. Oh How I wish someone remembered her. She passed away over 30 years ago and now there are so many questions that I never asked.

  2. Barbara, thanks for sharing your perspective. I forgot about those pitchers! I do not remember any goodies. Mostly felt very alone and that over shadows any other memories.

  3. Wow, interesting information, it makes you realize how easy some people have it now of days. I have gone through a tough time recently and it has given me a new perspective on life and family. I am fortunate to have access to all of my family and extended family and i am very grateful for the comforts of home.

    • Mark, thanks for reading my blog & leaving a comment, I appreciate the support and feedback. Sorry to hear about your tough times recently, right now the planets are encouraging us to let go of the old and focus on the positive,and do what we love.
      I researched websites after we talked, I was overwhelmed with doing it, so I bought my domain name and started this blog, which is going to be my book.

  4. Wonderful blog! Do you have any helpful hints
    for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little
    lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused .. Any tips? Thanks a lot!

    • Thanks for reading my blog and giving me feedback.
      I took a free webinar from transformationalauthors.com
      They suggest using facebook for your platform to develop a following.
      They also suggest WordPress.org But I was to overwhelmed with this approach.
      I decided to go with WordPress.com to learn how it works and I bought my name.
      There is an Author in that group called Bo Easton who suggest telling your story and sharing your wounds, that people are hungry for authenticity.
      I hope this is helpful, feel free to contact me at anytime.

      LOVE, LIGHT & LAUGHTER.

  5. Interesting. There are many posts which recall hostility and abuse. Obviously, also not your experience. That also is not in the memories of my ten years as a resident,.c.’41 thru ’50. They, the nuns, were good people doing a difficult job while serving the needs of the community.

      • Maureen,

        Wow, two years later I hook back into the thread. Stumbled into it. I was next door, at St. Joseph’s Orphanage from age 3 through 13. Simple explanation for all that is that my mother, a wonderful woman who was unable to take care of me, entrusted me to religious women who cared to do so. It was not an unpleasant experience for me.

        I am at that age where I look back on where I have been. My comments on the experience are documented and can be found when you query “St Joseph’s Orphanage, Fall River.” .

        Later in life,(I am now seventy-six) I met a Jesus-Mary graduate here in Florida, In the fifties, we were speaking through the fence from Msgr. Prevost High School. Seems like we still are.

        Thanks for caring to post,

        André

      • Andre,

        Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. I was touched by your story. It is amazing that you later reconnected with someone fron your past. You are 10 years older than me so we would of not crossed paths back then. Here we are in the present sharing our experiences of a time when we were vulnerable. Life is for sharing our humanity. Love, Light & Laughter. Maureen

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    • Raspberry, Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. In another comment you asked about the platform I use, which is WordPress.com and I am lucky I have not been hacked. .

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    • This is a WordPress.com blog-site and I purchased my own domain name, this is an easy to set up blog I am not a programmer or even a techy. This blog is based on my life story taken from my diaries I have kept over the years.Sometimes it takes more time than others depending on the research I have to do and the issues that come up that I need to work out.
      I am not a good typer for I am a finger pecker, so the average amount of time I sent on each post is about 5-10 hours. You can write just a paragraph it does not need to be wordy.

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  12. May I just say what a relief to uncover somebody who genuinely knows what they are talking about on the web.
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    • I appreciate the time you took for reading my blog post. You are so right about writing our stories.It has lead to my healing and releasing so that I can move forward.

  14. Very poignant story. You’re so correct that writing our memories and stories does give us insight into who we are. A few years ago I read a non-fiction book about the spiritual gifts/advantages of a difficult childhood. The author contended that we learn coping skills as well as the ability to accurately read and understand people’s non verbal communication.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Your comment is so right on. I have also found that by writing about my childhood my healing helps others in their healing, either through identifying their issues or writing about them.

  15. Maureen,
    Still following the thread, years later. As the memories fade and dissipate into the void, all that remains is what is documented here. History, it is our history.
    Be well, André

    • Hi Andre, it is great hearing from you again. Oh memories, some sweet, some bitter, ones that leave, others that stay, eventually all will be no more for the awakinging is here now. Thanks for connecting

  16. I believe my mother, Frances Alice Brogan, may have been at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in the early part of the 20th Century, probably after 1915. Wonder if there is any way of checking. After her
    parents died, she told me she was in a Catholic institution in Fall River, I believe. In her later years
    she said she had lived in Malden. Hope you can advise. I would like to know and share what I find with my brother. He wonders as well. Thank you for any help you can provide.

  17. I was at St. Joseph from 1960 through 1963. The boys slept in bay dorms and had shared showers. I recall well that on evenings when we attended benediction, usually Wednesday, we had hot chocolate for dinner. I think that it was made with water, not milk. I also remember hoping every weekend that someone would take me away, but that was a rare event. Saturday mornings we only got to watch Shari Lewis on television (awful), and Sunday night we watched Bonanza, but theynuns turned off the televisions during the fight scenes. It’s funny what stays with you.

  18. Susan your mother is the same age as my mother would be, thus I have no useful information for you. You could check out public records and the Catholic Church records and see where that leads you. My heart goes out to you and your mom. LOVE, LIGHT & LAUGHT

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