Aging nuns share their residence with other seniors

After spending a lifetime taking care of people, two orders of aging nuns in Winnipeg are sharing their private residences to help solve a problem for an aging Winnipeg population. Working with Despins Charities, the Oblate Sisters have led a massive renovation of their former residence in St. Boniface that will now allow them, along with La Congrégation des Filles de la Croix, and members of the public to live together with seniors’ services.

“It was both a practical and compassionate solution to challenges the entire community faces,” says Aurèle Foidart who has been in charge of turning the 50-­‐year-­‐old Oblate Sisters Mother House into a 157-­‐unit retirement residence.

“The sisters have been teachers, nurses and care givers all of their lives. Even in their senior years they saw a need in our community for more services for seniors and they responded. They found a solution that is in keeping with their own values,” says Foidart, Executive Director of Despins Charities, an arm of the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba (CHCM).

The massive building at 601 Aulneau Street at de la Cathedrale Avenue used to house 100 Oblate Sisters in the 1960s. With an aging population and fewer young women joining the order the building had become too large and too costly to keep up. In 2009 the Oblate Sisters had a vision to share their space and asked CHCM to help them turn their residence into more livable space for the entire community.

Gutted, renovated and renamed Villa Aulneau, the facility will now include a full service cafeteria, laundry services, light housekeeping, transportation, social activities and a full chapel on the main floor. About half of the units will be reserved for the Sisters and the rest are for rent, says Sister Cecile Fortier, General Superior of the Missionary Oblate Sisters.

“Our greatest challenge will be to make sure we still create a community for the sisters even though they now have their own suites,” says Sister Cecile, who will move into her Villa Aulneau suite in April when the building opens its doors.

Seventeen Filles de la Croix will vacate their Provincial House at 66 Moore Street in St. Vital to move into Villa Aulneau.

“We are an aging society but maybe by being together we will pull through it. We are called to be compassionate to one another and share the joy around us and we will nurture a community spirit in our new home with our neighbours, ” says Sister Evelyn Pierret, Provincial Superior of Les Filles de la Croix.

Villa Aulneau opens April 1st, 2011.

Questions and Answers

When does Villa Aulneau open?
The first residents start to move in April 1st, 2011.

Are there any units left?
We do have a long list of people who have expressed interest in the 78 units open to the public but we still have units available. We are touring people through daily. Housing for seniors a real premium in Winnipeg so we expect the units will be filled shortly so interested parties should call us soon.

Do you have to be certain age to move into Villa Aulneau or be Francophone?
There is no age requirement or ethnicity requirement. Most of the residents will likely be retired and many will be Francophone.

How much is the rent at Villa Aulneau?
The rent starts at $1780 a month for a one bedroom unit and includes full service cafeteria, laundry services, light housekeeping, transportation, social activities and access to a full chapel on the main floor. Those prices are based on the going rates in Winnipeg for assisted-living residences.

Was there any government money invested in this project?
No.

Who owns Villa Aulneau and where does the rent money go?
Villa Aulneau is owned by Despins Charities. The Oblate Sisters sold the building to Despins Charities two years ago to renovate, operate and manage with the understanding that any profits would continue to be used to help people in need in the community.

What is Despins Charities?
Despins Charities is a non-profit organization created in 1960 by the Grey Nuns. Today, it is owned by the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba.

What is the Catholic Health Corporation?
Ten years ago the Grey Nuns of Manitoba realized that it would be difficult, on their own, for them to continue to properly oversee the numerous community services they had started over the last 150 years. And they wanted to better engage more of the community. So they created a lay organization – the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba – to monitor their existing good works and to continue to look for ways to fulfill the needs of the community. Since then the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Sisters of St. Benedicts have also asked CHCM to govern their projects. Today the CHCM helps to govern 14 organizations – or communities of services – in Manitoba.

For more information or interviews contact:
Aurèle Foidart, Despins Charites, Executive Director (204) 480-7136 
afoidart@sgm.mb.ca

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