The grey nuns were an order started by Marie-Marguerite d’Youville. She also started the Sisters of Charity in Montreal. She started a house for the poor in Montreal and took over the General Hospital of Montreal. The general public resented the change in management and mocked the sisters by calling them the “grey women”. The group chose to embrace the name “The Grey Nuns” to recognize their humble beginnings.
In 1819, Bishop Provencher of St. Boniface, requested them to come to the Red River Settlement in Manitoba to help with missionary work. Seventeen of the Grey Nuns took the 85-day canoe journey and headed for Manitoba. When they arrived, they formed a small convent and school in St. Boniface (now the St. Boniface Museum). They also established the St. Boniface Hospital in 1871. In December, 1844, Sister Eulalie Lagrave of the Grey Nuns started to travel to St. Norbert twice a week to teach catechism classes. In 1858, St. Norbert became the Grey Nuns’ permanent residence and they created a convent and school there.
With assistance from Father Joseph-Noel Ritchot, the Grey Nuns’ convent/school changed and further developed. In 1904, they renovated and the school had textbooks, laboratories and met the Department of Education’s standards. The convent then became an all-girls school from grades one to twelve.
The students also engaged in religious festivals, picnics, arts and theatrical events. The sisters had a farm to raise food for the convent and many students paid their tuition through produce. The neighbouring Trappist monks also used their farm to support the convent.
- 1938 – old wing of convent demolished and modern one constructed
- 1957 – the entire building was renovated
- 1958 – school’s 100th anniversary with 5,700 students having been educated.
- 1959 – the Seine River School Division opened a high school in St. Norbert as well as the primary school École Noël-Ritchot
The convent closed a couple years later and the building is now used as the St. Norbert Personal Care home at 50 Saint Pierre Street.
The Grey Nuns also helped establish St. Mary’s Academy, St. Boniface Hospital, St. Amant Centre and the Youville Community Health Centre