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

  • German Olympic gymnastics team, tired of 'sexualization,' wears unitards

    World News CBC News
    The team's outfits looked similar to the others in the room as the arena lights gleamed off crystals crisscrossing their chests and down their crimson and white sleeves. But the German gymnastics team's new Olympic suits didn't stop at their hips. Source
  • More than 250 wildfires continue to burn in B.C. as crews plan for challenging weather

    Canada News CBC News
    The B.C. Wildfire Service says more than 250 wildfires are currently burning across the province, with hundreds of firefighters continuing to work through challenging terrain in hot, dry conditions. The number is down from last week, when there were 300 active fires, the agency said. Source
  • Pelosi appoints 2nd GOP critic of Trump to Jan. 6 committee

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday named a second Republican critic of Donald Trump, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, to a special committee investigating the Capitol riot and pledged that the Democratic-majority panel will "get to the truth. Source
  • Belgians reeling after more heavy flooding rips apart streets, washes away cars

    World News CBC News
    The town of Dinant, Belgium, was cleaning up on Sunday after its heaviest floods in decades the previous day turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavement but did not kill anyone. The flooding followed a two-hour thunderstorm, which left streets strewn with rubble, wrecked cars and thick mud. Source
  • Historic Black community has slate of all-Black candidates in N.S. election

    Canada News CBC News
    For the first time in more than 20 years, one of Nova Scotia's oldest and largest Black communities will be represented by a Black MLA — regardless of which party wins. All three declared candidates in the Preston riding are Black. Source
  • Madrid's Retiro park, Prado avenue join World Heritage list

    World News CTV News
    MADRID -- Madrid's tree-lined Paseo del Prado boulevard and the adjoining Retiro park have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage list. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, holding an online meeting from Fuzhou, China, backed the candidacy on Sunday that highlighted the green area's introduction of nature into Spain's capital. Source
  • Pandemic pares back pomp of Mary Simon's installation ceremony as governor general

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- When Mary Simon walks into the Senate on Monday to be installed as the country's next governor general, she will find the upper chamber sparsely populated. The installation ceremonies for Simon's predecessors have attracted hundreds of people packed tightly into the Senate, including cabinet ministers, senators, MPs, justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, dignitaries and invited guests. Source
  • Fauci says U.S. headed in 'wrong direction' on coronavirus

    World News CTV News
    WILMINGTON, DEL. -- The United States is in an "unnecessary predicament" of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation's top infectious diseases expert said Sunday. "We're going in the wrong direction," said Dr. Source
  • Saint John police officers told not to wear thin blue line patches

    Canada News CBC News
    The Saint John Police Force has informed its officers to stop wearing thin blue line patches following social media posts of officers sporting the controversial patch. Tweets posted on Thursday show Saint John police officers wearing the patches at King's Square on July 3, while present at a protest being held by members of the community. Source
  • Saint John police officers ordered not to wear thin blue line patches

    Canada News CBC News
    The Saint John Police Force has informed its officers to stop wearing thin blue line patches following social media posts of officers sporting the controversial patch. Tweets posted on Thursday show Saint John police officers wearing the patches at King's Square on July 3, while present at a protest being held by members of the community. Source