Friday, October 24, 2014

Belcourt Centre, Rustico - to be demolished?

            There has been much discussion lately about the future of the Belcourt Centre in Rustico - there's been some misinformation circulating about the history of the building. The following comes the Parish history, St. Augustine's Church 1838-1988, Pages 57-59.
Above: The First Convent / Below: the present Convent.
            In February 1932 the first Convent on this site was destroyed by fire...
            "The Sisters and the parishioners did not give up. The big house opposite the church, then owned by Teddy Doucette, was made available as living quarters for the Sisters and some classrooms, and the remaining classes were accommodated in the Parish Hall. The boarders were lodged with families in the village. Classes were resumed the very next day, after books were secured from Charlottetown.  
            With insurance money for materials, the parishioners decided they could build a new convent if volunteer labour were provided. The traditional generosity of the people and their tremendous loyalty to the convent made it possible to erect a convent that summer, using the repaired foundation and an almost identical design. Missing were the third floor dormer windows which had given the original convent an air of style. The Sisters and pupils moved into the new building in December, 1932. At the time of the re-building, Sr. St. Joseph du Sauveur, who had done so much for the former convent, was retired in Montreal. But her love for Rustico prompted her to help. She had a truck box placed near the entrance to the Motherhouse with a sign, "Donations for the Convent in Rustico".  
            Even with the new convent building, better salaries for the teachers, and many successes in the training of youth, all was not easy. Declining enrollment in the thirties threatened their government salaries, and changes in lifestyles made boarding schools less popular. But another boost for the convent occurred when a Grade Eleven Class was opened in 1950. This put the Convent School in the category of Senior High School, and though the classes were small, their success in Maritime Board Examinations was testimony to the quality of the teaching found in Rustico Convent. In 1953, the Grade Eleven Class was combined with that of North Rustico.  
            The late fifties and early sixties brought more changes which affected the convent in Rustico. Consolidation of schools brought bus transportation into the picture, and soon boarding schools were completely out of date. To provide space for the now larger classes, the Department of Education in 1963 had a new elementary school built near St. Augustine's Church, and this move left more vacant space at the convent. The Sisters continued to live there and teach at the new school, named St. Augustine's School, but as the number of Sisters on the staff decreased, they found it more convenient to live at Stella Maris Convent in North Rustico and commute to school.  
            For a few years the convent was used as a summer residence for Sisters of Notre Dame in the Maritime, but this plan proved too costly, and in 1973, the convent was sold to Jack Pound and Joe Jabbour under the company name of J and J Estates. For a short time they operated a motel and Restaurant under the name Belcourt Lodge and Restaurant. Lack of modern facilities and other handicaps hindered the success of their enterprise. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown had a committee searching for a facility for Retreats and other religious programs, and in 1977 it was decided to buy the former St. Augustine's Convent for a Retreat House. For four years the Retreat House program gradually grew under the direction of Donald Doucette of Rusticoville, and then in 1981, two Sisters of St. Martha came to live at the Retreat House and carry out the tasks of administration. They were: Sister Bernice Cullen and Sister Carmelita Soloman. Later a third Sister, Sister Frances Murphy, joined the staff. Belcourt Centre has a full yearly schedule of events fro Spiritual Renewal, and for the parishioners who had supported the convent so faithfully, it has been great joy "to see the lights in the convent again".  
            To reflect adequately on the contribution made by the Sisters of Notre Dame at the convent from 1882 would be a monumental task. Here we have space only to highlight a few outstanding ways in which a lasting impression was effected for people of the parish and far beyond its limits, and mention a few points of special interest in the history of the convent.
            Formation in the Christian life was always foremost in the program provided by the Sister, and daily religious instruction and prayer... 
            Cultural training was offered through music, drama and art; and through instruction and example, pupils acquired a general refinement that has carried down from generation to generation...
            The good religious formation provided in the school and the example of the Sisters encouraged those who ere called to the priesthood and the religious life..  For nearly one hundred years, the daughters of Marguerite Bourgeoys gave to Rustico families and to families far beyond the parish boundaries a solid formation in the Christian life, first class instruction in academic subjects, and a cultural education that no report card can evaluate. Though the convent they knew is no more, the people of Rustico recognize that the lives of families trained at the convent were transformed by the Sisters, and their gratitude will not diminish in the years to come. It seems very fitting that the former convent now serves as a Diocesan Retreat House under the name Belcourt Center."

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