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.
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.