A Story to Commemorate the Convent of the Sisters of Sainte-Marie de Namur
On November 11, 2020, at the request of the Sisters of Sainte-Marie de Namur, a plaque was installed at the corner of Vankleek Hill’s Higginson Street and Stanley Street, to commemorate the century-long location of the Convent of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Vankleek Hill. Representatives from the Order were present. The date was selected to celebrate the establishment of their first convent in Canada, in Vankleek Hill, and to mark the founding of the Order in Namur, Belgium.
Sister Fernand Levac (seen above, far right) and Sister Nicole Kingsley, Regional Superior of the Sisters of St. Mary in Canada (centre back row with name tag) explained that the occasion was made possible with the cooperation of the Champlain Township, property owner Dana Johnston, and the contribution by André Martel of Martel Monuments. The plaque, they said, was to ensure the presence of the convent “is not erased from the collective memory.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, no public announcement was made of the event. Those invited to attend included: Father Pierre Domerson of St. Gregoire parish, Mayor Normand Riopel, Councillor Peter Barton, Martel Monuments owner André Martel, Dana Johnston, The Review publisher Louise Sproule, Thérèse Boyer on behalf of parishioners, Denis Seguin Architect President Vankleek Hill & District HIstorical Society, and Michelle Landriault Vankleek Hill Museum.
What follows here is a brief history of a dynamic convent that served our town and district for over a hundred years.
The corner stone for the Convent of Saint Mary of Namur in Vankleek Hill was laid and blessed in May, 1886. The project was the inspiration of the two daughters of Eliza and Richard McGreevy, Irish-born Catholics, of Vankleek Hill.
In the 1861 Census, Richard is a farmer on Concession 5, Lot 18 in East Hawkesbury. He has 100 acres, 21 under cultivation; 13 under crops; 8 pasture; one acre of orchard and several wooded acres. By 1881, he is a hotel keeper in Vankleek Hill.
On a family visit to Elmira, New York their two daughters became enamoured with the Belgian teaching order Sisters of St. Mary, and later entered the novitiate in Lockport, N.Y. The two daughters, Sister Mary Berchinaus and Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, were devoted to setting-up a Catholic education centre for Vankleek Hill’s Catholic children.
Through a combination of land donation from their father Richard McGreevy, and a land purchased by the Ottawa Diocese from William Higginson assisted by a $275 mortgage held by Eliza McGreevy, the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur Convent – with a playground – was constructed at the corner of Higginson Street and Stanley Street, and opened January 27, 1887. The Duke of Norfolk, Lord Strathcona and Belgian nobles were among early benefactors. (The Ottawa Journal, June 25, 1937)