Sisters searching for new tenants

The interior of what was once Rivier school, once home to hundreds of nuns and bustling hallways of students. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary are looking for someone to take over their West Flat building, long the home Blessed Marie Rivier Catholic School.

The religious community has provided education at 1405 Bishop Pascal Place for more than 65 years. Last school year, they handed over operation to the Prince Albert Catholic School Division. In May, the division announced that they would move students to St. Mary High School – leaving the classrooms empty in Rivier.

Provincial Superior Lise Paquette said the nuns are looking for someone to rent the wing the school once occupied, or perhaps a buyer for the whole facility.

“To really maintain a building like this,” she said, “you do need to have financial backing. We don’t want this building to deteriorate.”

The sisters lost out on needed income when the division pulled out. They’re also feeling pressure from dwindling membership. In the 60’s, about 200 nuns lived in 1405 Bishop Pascal Place. Now, there’s only about 40.

Paquette said the natural fit is a new school. She said she once heard interest from First Nations University. But she’s also looking outside the box.

“Another option can be someone who would want to develop this into condos,” she said. “I know at one time we had looked at a daycare. We’ve looked at different options over the years so this building would continue for the city.”

On Friday, she said, representatives of the Prince Albert Grand Council came to tour the facility.

“They’re looking and seeing how big is the place, what are the possibilities,” she explained.

Sister Lise Paquette in the chapel of 1405 Bishop Pascal Place. The facility also has a gym and a pool. Sister Paquette wants to remind residents that the pool is still open to the public. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Sister Paquette said that Mayor Greg Dionne has played a significant role helping them seek out solutions. The mayor said that the building has “lots of life left in it.”

He also wants to stand by the sisters.

“The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary make Prince Albert a better place to live,” he said. “People need to realize that it’s not only a school, it’s their home.”

Dionne said he’s busy arranging meetings with provincial ministries to see if they can find a use for the facility.

“We’re going to meet again with the education department,” he said. “It boils down to funding.”

Sister Paquette said her order has already secured new living quarters on 3 Avenue East, and a few nuns have relocated. In the coming years, she said, the whole community will likely make the move. But they want to be sure they’re leaving their old home in good hands.

“When you have fewer people,” she said, “you have to downsize… It will depend on what happens here, but we hope different options come to us within this year.”

For Sister Paquette, the order’s travails are part of a worldwide tendency affecting religious orders.

“Society right now is in chaos,” she said. “Because there is so much uncertainty, there are fewer women who join us.

“Families are having a difficult time, the economy is not great. The religious communities are living that.”