Old convent in rural N.S. prepares to welcome 6 refugees

ST. ANDREWS, N.S. -- The old convent in rural St. Andrews, N.S., had been for sale for more than a year when the Sisters of St.

See Full Article

Martha concluded that fate or something more powerful was telling them the big, empty home had a higher purpose.

In September, within a few weeks of Pope Francis urging more parishes to take in Syrian refugees, the nuns had turned their attention to making the house available when a call came from a local group thinking the same thing.

"Maybe it wasn't meant to be sold," says Sister Brendalee Boisvert, the order's congregation leader. "Maybe this was always in the mind and heart of the Holy Spirit -- that we would always have a family enjoy this home that we enjoyed for 87 years."

With the help of the religious order, volunteers with the Tri-Heart Society are now preparing for the arrival of a privately sponsored Syrian family of six who have been living in a camp in Lebanon.

The volunteers have been told the family's 43-year-old father is an electrician and welder, and his 39-year-old wife has secretarial skills. They have three sons -- ages 16, 13 and six -- and an eight-year-old daughter.

Little else is known about the family, except that they speak Arabic and the eldest son speaks some English.

Tri-Heart has raised more than $30,000 for living expenses. As well, the seven-room convent has been cleaned up, stocked with supplies and is accepting donated furniture.

A cozy living room with a flat-screen TV has replaced a small chapel. School supplies sit in neat piles on a small desk in an upper bedroom. And when the call went out last week for a kitchen table and chairs, a donated set showed up the next morning.

While there's no question the nuns and volunteers have the best interests of the refugees at heart, the question remains: is a quiet, rural corner of eastern Nova Scotia an appropriate place to settle a family from a war zone?

Boisvert says she knows there will be challenges.

"They're going to come carrying what it feels like to be displaced, but this community is ready."

Harry Daemen, a retired engineer and chairman of Tri-Heart, says the group has consulted with three local schools to ensure they are ready for their new students. As well, several Arabic-speaking residents have come forward to help, including some professors at St. Francis Xavier University in nearby Antigonish.

And there's more to the community than dairy farms and cornfields, says Daemen.

"On any given Friday night, the community hall is full, the curling rink, too, and the elementary school (next to the convent) is always having a meetings," he says. "It's not a little village that doesn't have things happening."

More importantly, St. Andrews -- population 1,100 -- has a well-earned reputation for welcoming newcomers.

Daemen was a toddler when he and his family first arrived in the area as part of a wave of Dutch immigrants looking for farm land after the Second World War.

"Somebody had to sponsor you for a year," he says, noting a parallel with the Syrian family.

"It is a community that has been welcoming people ever since the first Scots set foot in St. Andrews (in the early 1800s). And that will continue."

MaryAnn Forbes, another member of Tri-Heart and also a Dutch immigrant, recalls how she helped a family of Vietnamese boat people who were resettled near her family's farm in the early 1980s.

The family used only the lower floor of their donated home when they first arrived, she says, adding, "They didn't feel free to use it all until they were told."

Daemen says the residents of St. Andrews are keen to help the Syrian family adapt, but there's more to what is happening at the convent than a simple act of charity.

"The immigration cycles of the past have kept us healthy and renewed," he says."We need an injection of new cultures, people and new thoughts."

Nova Scotia has offered to settle up to 1,500 refugees but it's unclear when they will start arriving. To date, more than 100 groups have raised money, including 51 in Halifax alone



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Milgaard pushed for action on Indigenous sisters' wrongful conviction claims

    Canada News CTV News
    David Milgaard was actively helping people who claim they have been wrongfully convicted right up until his sudden death, including two Indigenous sisters who have been incarcerated for nearly 30 years. The victim of one of Canada's most notorious miscarriages of justice, he spent 23 years in prison for a 1969 rape and murder he didn't commit. Source
  • Prince Charles and Camilla kick off three-day Canadian tour in St. John's today

    Canada News CTV News
    St. JOHN'S - Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, are in Newfoundland and Labrador's capital today to begin a three-day Canadian tour focused on Indigenous reconciliation and climate change. The royal couple will visit the provincial legislature where they will be welcomed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before heading to Government House, which is the official residence of Lt. Source
  • Heavy rains trigger floods in northeast India, killing 8

    World News CTV News
    GAUHATI, India - At least eight people have died in floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains in India’s remote northeast region, officials said Tuesday. Several railway stations were not working because of floods, said Nazreen Ahmed, a senior administrative official in Assam’s Dima Hasao district. Source
  • Heavy rains trigger flooding, turn deadly in northeast India

    World News CTV News
    GAUHATI, India - At least eight people have died in floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains in India’s remote northeast region, officials said Tuesday. Several railway stations were not working because of floods, said Nazreen Ahmed, a senior administrative official in Assam’s Dima Hasao district. Source
  • Taiwan's president condemns California church shooting

    World News CTV News
    TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan’s president has condemned the shooting at a Taiwanese church in California by a man reportedly driven by hatred of the island, while a lawmaker from her ruling party questioned whether Chinese propaganda was a motivating factor behind the violence. Source
  • Man killed in California church shooting called a hero

    World News CTV News
    LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. - A gunman motivated by hatred against Taiwan chained shut the doors of a California church and hid firebombs before shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners, killing a man who tackled him, authorities said. Source
  • Attacking schools, Russia deals a blow to Ukraine's future

    World News CTV News
    KYIV, Ukraine - As she lay buried under the rubble, her legs broken and eyes blinded by blood and thick clouds of dust, all Inna Levchenko could hear was screams. It was 12:15 p.m. on March 3, and moments earlier a blast had pulverized the school where she’d taught for 30 years. Source
  • Ukraine mounts effort to rescue last of the Mariupol steel mill fighters

    World News CTV News
    KYIV, Ukraine - Efforts were underway Tuesday to rescue the last of the defenders inside the Azovstal steel plant in the ruined city of Mariupol after Ukrainian officials said the fighters had “completed their mission” and there was no way to free the plant by military means. Source
  • Top 6 moments from the 2022 Ontario election debate

    Canada News CTV News
    Ontario’s four main party leaders were relatively civil as they sparred at Monday night’s televised election debate in Toronto. Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, Liberal Leader Del Duca, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner spent 90 minutes discussing topics that fell into four sub-topics–the economy, healthcare, education and leadership. Source
  • N. Korea reports another surge in fevers amid COVID crisis

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea on Tuesday reported another large jump in illnesses believed to be COVID-19 as a mass outbreak spreads through its unvaccinated population and military medical officers were deployed to distribute medicine. Source