Sr. Eileen Mary Walsh, general superior of London’s Precious Blood Monastery Register file photo

100 years on and the ‘PBs’ are still in prayer

  • May 10, 2013

LONDON, ONT. - The Sisters of the Precious Blood are a contemplative order of nuns that ordinarily goes about its work in as quiet and unobtrusive a way as possible. But on May 1 they were front and centre at a grand public commemoration to mark their 100th anniversary in London.

Five bishops and nearly 40 priests concelebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving before a packed congregation at St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica to recognize the sisters’ contribution to the city over the past century.

The Precious Blood Sisters — or the PBs as they’re familiarly known to London Catholics — were the first contemplative community established in Canada by Mother Catherine Aurelia Caouette. At the time of the order’s founding in 1861 in St. Hyacinthe, Que., then Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal suggested it was time for an order devoted entirely to prayer. As the order spread, arriving in London in 1913, that devotion to prayer never wavered.

“Prayer is the air we breathe at the monastery,” said Sr. Eileen Mary Walsh, general superior of London’s Precious Blood Monastery, at a rapturously noisy reception.

“We’re always either coming from prayer or getting ready to go to prayer. We have five to six hours of prayer a day. Even this evening before we came over here, we had evening prayer together. That was just the thing to do.”

The previous day, Walsh had celebrated her 50th anniversary as a nun. Born in Prince Edward Island, she entered a Precious Blood monastery in Charlottetown and then took her final vows in London in 1963. At that time, the PBs were situated in a much larger building just north of downtown London. As their numbers dwindled through the 1960s and ’70s, that monastery became impractically large and expensive to operate, so the PBs moved in 1979 to a much smaller building that also serves as the Precious Blood Mother House for all of English-speaking Canada, near Western University.

“In the old house in 1963 we were 52 sisters,” Walsh recalled. “There were about 200 of us across the whole congregation. At our peak we were in 14 locations. Today we have about 60 sisters across Canada and there are 12 sisters now in London, including two novices and two candidates.

“It’s a lot better than say 10 years ago. You may have noticed the women here tonight — the younger ones — most of them are Asian background. If they come and they have the charism to live our life, then where they come from is not a big thing.”

Walsh said new candidates are attracted to the PBs because they recognize the need for a life devoted to prayer, “and they want to give themselves to God and they’re willing to come and live in community.”

“In some ways, from the outside looking in, it can appear like an easy life,” Walsh said. “But it’s really quite difficult in some ways. But if you’re called to it, that’s where you’re going to be happy.

“When people come, I always compare them to little roses. They’re tight little buds and if they’re meant to be in our community, they’ll gradually open up and they’ll flourish and be happy. And if they don’t, it’s probably not the place for them.”

A year after the Precious Blood Monastery was established in London, St. Peter’s Seminary opened its doors. The sisters earned income by making vestments for priests in the diocese of London. That work fell by the wayside a long time ago, although the PBs still make some Church linens — though not for remuneration.

Today, a significant source of revenue is the distribution of altar breads to most of English-speaking Canada.

“The altar breads are made centrally in Hamilton and are shipped in big cartons to all our monasteries across Canada and then each monastery distributes them to their local area,” Walsh explained. “So that’s a source of revenue for us.”

Otherwise, the monastery is sustained by the gifts of the faithful, she said.

“People are good to us. When they come to us, they will give an offering if they can afford it. We never ask for money but if they can they will often leave a donation, and sometimes it’s a great personal sacrifice.”
The Sisters remain a source of solace for people in times of need.

“I’ve dried a lot of tears in my 50 years because people need to have somebody to talk to,” Walsh said. “Those other works we do are a means of support, they give a balance to our life but they’re not why we’re here. We’re really here for a ministry of prayer.”

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