In Quebec City I stayed for six days at The Monastère des Augustine, a restored monastery started by the Augustinian sisters 325 years ago. Talk about “all-inclusive” — it’s a church, nave, museum, archive centre, wellness resort, historical hotel and functioning hospital (which I wandered into accidentally while lost in the maze of vaults, tunnels, glass breezeways and ancient wooden staircases).
The Augustinian sisters devoted their lives — every possible minute of the day and night — to caring for mentally ill patients, homeless people, prostitutes, and wounded soldiers in the name of Jesus Christ. The hospital was started before nurses were trained formally.
In fact, the sisters were worried that the soon-to-be-established nursing school would take them away from the patients’ bedsides and diminish the importance of experiential learning and mentoring. The nuns also worried about the effect of chemical drugs and pharmaceuticals (they grew most of their own medicine).
Did they miss the life they left behind?
“Did the sisters get homesick?” I wondered as I looked at the nuns’ individual cells (yes, cells!). Each cell had a single bed, small wooden stool to kneel on for prayers, and window. The sisters wore habits, so had no need for closets or dressers. I imagine they had to change their habits at least every day because they assisted with or performed surgery, cleaned up vomit and other bodily discharges, and changed the patients’ bedding and clothes.
I also wondered if the sisters wept when they sat in the window seats overlooking the hospital and the garden. My room had a window seat. I couldn’t open the window because it was original, preserved and sealed shut to protect its heritage. What did outside smell like 325 years ago? What did it sound like when patients and visitors walked along the lantern-lit streets? The monastery didn’t get electricity until 1953 (the same time women in Quebec got to vote. What an exciting year!).
Boy, was I homesick. I stayed at The Monastère des Augustine for six nights. Usually I talk to people when I travel, but this time I didn’t. Breakfast is taken in silence to honour the sisters’ original traditions and rhythms. The nuns still sing vespers and pray twice daily in the church.
Even the hallways — so quiet and beautiful, with thick white cement walls and low ceilings supported by heavy wood beams — discouraged chit chat.
It was a lonely, deep six days. The Augustinian sisters’ devotion to God and dedication to the patients haunted me. They must have felt homesick, lonely and sad sometimes. These women came from all over the world to serve as Jesus’ hands and feet…did their family and friends support and encourage them?
I believe the sisters felt the pain and suffering of the patients. There was a wing called the “Infirmerie Petite” for sick babies and children. The sisters may have comforted and prayed for grieving parents. Certainly they lost patients in the hospital, and would’ve prepared many bodies for burial.
What do you do when you get homesick?
After a day or two, I stopped fighting my homesickness. I just let myself be homesick and sad. It didn’t feel great, to tell you the truth — though exploring old Quebec City was amazing! I also love thrift store shopping in different parts of the world. I found a Salvation Army-type warehouse that contained four sprawling levels of old treasures, books, clothes, furniture and paintings. Some were so old, they probably belonged to the original Augustinian sisters. But some were so new they still had their price tags! A treasure hunt.
A few years ago, I wrote How to Stop Feeling Homesick When You’re Traveling Alone. Back then I was more of a “here’s how to deal with loneliness and sadness” writer. These days, I’m leaning towards “let yourself feel what you feel, because your spirit and body is telling you something important. If you avoid your feelings they’ll just get bigger, blacker and bolder.”
On my second last day in Quebec City, I woke up on the other side of my homesickness. It felt great to come alive again! I’m on my way home now; looking back I believe I wasn’t just homesick…I was affected by the sweet spirits and souls of those Augustinian sisters who served the Lord with their whole hearts, minds, souls and lives. Being there and imagining what it was like to serve like a sister wasn’t depressing. It was solemn, reflective, and deep.
And, yes, my journey was a little sad. And that’s okay because a deep, rich, full life should be both bitter and sweet. Bittersweet.
Whatever you’re going through — whether you’re homesick for someone you love, a place you left behind, a life you once knew, a pet you loved and lost — know that you will wake up on the other side. You may never get back what you lost…but you will grow through it. And if you keep walking in faith, you will enter a deeper, more beautiful, more joyful life than you could ever imagine.
With the love of Jesus,