The Abbey of Sainte-Marie des Deux-Montagnes is a community of strictly contemplative women founded in Canada in 1936. Photo from

Speaking Out: My weekend in a monastery

By  Gabriela Pariseau, Speaking Out
  • March 21, 2019

This was one February reading week that certainly won’t be forgotten.

The annual mid-winter break from classes took a different — and quiet — turn for me and five friends who visited Abbaye Sainte-Marie des Deux-Montagnes in Montreal. There, we tasted Benedictine contemplative life for the first time.

Going into the retreat, I did not know what to expect. I had visited active orders like the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George and the Pauline sisters, but I had a very limited understanding of cloistered nuns. None us who attended the retreat were discerning joining the monastery, but we all wanted the chance to pray, meditate and experience the Benedictine life before going back to school.

Although the retreat was not completely silent, it was very solemn and quiet. We ate all our meals with classical music playing in case we were tempted to talk and we kept grand silence from 7:30 p.m. until after morning prayer the next day around 7:30 a.m. 

The sisters talked to us about their way of life and spirituality, showed us around the inside of the cloister. We were even able participate in community work and prayer with them. We could comment or ask questions throughout, but the short spans of free time during the retreat were for prayer and listening, not for chatting.

The silence of the monastery was a drastic change from the previous week my friends and I spent together which was full of loud laughter, late-night conversations and outright goofiness at times. 

At first, many of my friends struggled not only to keep the silence but also to enjoy the silence. Oddly, however, I really loved it from the start. 

I once heard that in silence, we can remember Christ’s presence in every moment and invite Him into whatever we are doing, but I had never actually done that before. 

As we ate our first meal in (almost) silence, I was filled with peace and joy. I realized I was eating supper with Jesus. So, I acknowledged His presence and began to talk to Him. I told Him what I was thinking about, my worries for the upcoming months, I thanked Him for the many blessings in my life, and I tried to listen.

Over the course of the retreat, I slowly began to understand more clearly that just as I had made my supper time into conversation with Christ, the sisters’ entire way of life is Christ-centred. 

Sr. Laetitia demonstrated this when she went over the antiphons for Mass with us. She explained that every word and note offers us a meditation for our journey with Christ. Later, Sr. Agnes told us that each symbol in her iconography art is intended to point the viewer back to Christ. 

Another thing that surprised my friends and I was how lively the sisters were. I had always imagined cloistered nuns as quiet introverted people who did not like talking very much. 

By the end of the retreat, I saw the contemplative life as a real, colourful and truly beautiful vocation. Being a cloistered nun was no longer a vocation I could never be called to but a new option to explore. I realized as we left on Sunday that God will give me the grace to live out whatever vocation He calls me to whether that be marriage, active religious life or the cloistered monastery.

(Pariseau, 21, is a third-year Catholic studies student at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont. )

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