The early-spring sun is barely risen when the six Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in Calgary make their way to their chapel for morning mass. As the day progresses, the sisters will gather in the chapel four more times to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, an official Prayer of the Church, which sanctifies the day with prayer. Each woman will also spend 30 minutes in private prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They use those precious minutes to pray for the needs of the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, and to ask God’s blessing on the world. They also devote that time alone to pray “for the people for whom we’ve promised to pray,” explains Sr. Margaret Nadeau. Many of those prayer requests are posted on the chapel door, a physical reminder that those who live in this cloistered religious community are purposefully devoted to the world from which they’ve chosen to live apart.
Founded in Quebec in 1861, the Sisters of the Precious Blood was the first contemplative community established in Canada. In addition to the founding monastery in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the order has houses in Calgary, Regina, London and Hamilton, plus two monasteries in the United States and two in Japan.
As well as praying for the people in the communities where they live, the Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in Calgary plays a tangible role in supporting parishes across the diocese. While the Calgary convent stopped baking altar breads several decades ago, the sisters still receive regular truckloads of hosts baked in the order’s Hamilton house.
Once in Calgary, the large cartons are unpacked into smaller boxes of hosts according to the needs of the parishes. Parishes typically pick up these smaller boxes from the monastery, which is located in Erlton, just south of downtown Calgary. Some boxes are also shipped to parishes in other dioceses.
The pandemic disrupted this aspect of life in the monastery. While orders for hosts fell in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few parishes in Calgary also were over-supplied. With Calgary’s diocese supporting public health protocols, that extra supply more than sustained the parishes when offering regular masses with fewer parishioners became the norm.
“One of the main sources of our income has been the sale and supply of hosts, but demand changed when the pandemic started. Orders are starting to pick up a little now and that’s good as our Hamilton house has hired lay staff and we want to keep them working,” says Sr. Nadeau. A native of Medicine Hat, she joined the Sisters of the Precious Blood 63 years ago this month. “For me, it was a way to embrace the total church in a life of prayer.”
Month of the Holy Eucharist
All Catholics are called to join that embrace in a special way during the month of April, which is dedicated to the Holy Eucharist. April was chosen because it typically includes Easter Sunday. (Even when Easter falls in March, the entire month of April is part of the Easter season.)
The dedication to the Holy Eucharist is a daily commitment for the Sisters of the Precious Blood, whose charism focuses on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. While some of the order’s houses across Canada could not have daily mass during the pandemic, that wasn’t the case in Calgary. In the early days, Bishop William McGrattan did restrict the list of visiting priests to two individuals. Over time, those restrictions were changed to allow more priests to say mass at the monastery.
For now, visitors cannot participate in the holy hour celebration the monastery hosts every Thursday evening. The sisters understand, but miss sharing this special hour of prayers and singing with others in the faith community.
“In some ways we’re probably one of the groups of people that has been least affected by the pandemic and for that, we’re grateful,” says Sr. Nadeau. “We live a cloistered life with or without the pandemic and life here goes on every day, with our life of prayer still the biggest thing for us. We just keep on every day, just like we did before.”
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers