In the heart of Montreal, there is a very special house with a lovely name communauté Vita-Joie (Live Your Joy). In 2009, the sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame moved into this house to welcome two new candidates, Andrée Maheu and Violaine Paradis. When the sisters were received as novices, the house became a novitiate. Now, Andrée and Violaine are sisters in temporary profession and Vita-Joie’s mission is changing once again, it is becoming an intercultural and intergenerational community. Seven sisters currently live in this house sharing the joys and challenges of daily life, all have very busy schedules and extraordinary vitality!
Community Life and Commitment
This community group is composed of five Canadian sisters (Francine, Sheila, Louise, Andrée and Violaine), one Cameroonian sister (Brigitte) and one Honduran (Mariana). French is the main language spoken in the house in order to help Sister Mariana improve her knowledge of the language but you can also hear English and Spanish around the house.
It is a big house with enough space to accommodate everyone, but a harmonious community life requires some organization and, at times, compromises. The seven sisters share the household tasks, e.g., they take turns preparing dinner according to an established schedule. If one of them will not be home when it is her turn to cook, she prepares the meal in advance and arranges for someone to warm it up when it is time to serve. They all try to be together for prayer and the evening meal but it is not always possible. Monday is the only day of the week when all seven have dinner together. At times there are a few extra people around the dinner table, guests enjoying the warm hospitality that is characteristic of the sisters of the Congrégation of Notre-Dame.
Community meetings are held on a regular basis for the sisters to meet and celebrate together, and to discuss what is going well and what is not. Communication is key to harmonious living together. “One must be very open to the other’s culture,” Sister Francine pointed out and Sister Brigitte added: “There are adjustments to be made in the beginning but after living together for a while it is going better and better.” Everything cannot be put down on paper; you must experience something in order to know what may need to be changed.
Each person has different commitments and obligations which must also be reconciled.
Sister Francine Landreville is a member of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys provincial administration (an administrative entity of the congregation), she acts as bursar. Sister Sheila Sullivan, an English-speaking Montrealer, holds several different positions after having devoted ten years to the service of the General Administration of the Congregation. She is the formation director for Visitation Province and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Bureau for Children’s Rights. Sister Louise Breton is a counselor and spiritual guide.
The other sisters combine studies and services: Sister Brigitte Minkada arrived in Quebec in 2010; she is currently completing a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Theology at the Dominican Pastoral Institute. Brigitte also devotes several hours a week to “La rue des femmes”, an organization which works with itinerant women, both the homeless and those who are at different stages of making homes for themselves. “My outlook is changing. These women bring me a great deal. Being exposed to this reality has helped break down many prejudices. I try to bring them a real quality of presence.” Sister Mariana Sagastume Ventura is studying at IFHIM (Institut de Formation humaine intégrale de Montréal). Sister Andrée Maheu works at Maison l’Échelon, an organization that helps people suffering from mental illness; her commitment calls on her many artistic talents: she organizes different creative and sports-oriented activities, even making musical instruments to accompany the singing! Sister Violaine works in pastoral leadership at the Centre étudiant Benoît-Lacroix; she is currently working on a play with a group of young adults, Dead Man Walking.
According to Sister Francine, although they are all very busy, living in a small community allows for much more interaction than in the bigger residences. “Life was also much more structured in the old convents,” recalled Sister Sheila, who clearly remembers her daily schedule at Saint-Paul Academy, which included time for payer, religious reading and... sewing!
Different times, different occupations: the garage has been transformed into a workshop where Andrée creates works of art using recycled materials. There are also a few bicycles stored in there for the winter... but our sisters know how to keep in shape with exercise equipment! The house is clearly divided into common areas and personal spaces. To decorate the house, the sisters have hung on the walls works of art from the different countries where the Congregation is present as well as CND creations that were kept in the archives: many of them evoke a strong theme of the spirituality of the Congregation, the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. And of course, one room is used as a chapel.
It is difficult to pray in another language, isn’t it? During community prayer, parts of the prayer are recited in the different languages and the sisters slowly begin to learn them. The sisters go to different local churches. Mariana found one that celebrates Mass in Spanish which allows her to get back to her roots and helps her feel at home.
Apart from the age differences, the diverse languages and varied schedules, laughter is universal and there is a lot of it at the Vita-Joie community! At home, among your family, is where you draw the strength necessary to pursue your mission. This is also true in the international family of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame.
Written by Stephanie Manseau, Coordinator of Communications for Congrégation de Notre-Dame.