Sisters hold final service in beloved monastery


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For Mary Coswin and Dorothy Levandosky, Friday was bittersweet.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/10/2022 (233 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For Mary Coswin and Dorothy Levandosky, Friday was bittersweet.

The two members of the Sisters of St. Benedict, along with the 10 other sisters of their order, celebrated eucharist for the last time in the chapel at their former monastery in West St. Paul.

“This is the hardest part of our transition to a new home,” said Coswin, 74, who has been connected to the monastery since the early 1960s. “This was our sacred space.”


Sisters Dorothy Levandosky and Mary Coswin at the monastery.

“It’s a little heart-wrenching,” said Levandosky, 75.

The monastery became home for the sisters soon after it was constructed as a girls school in 1961. In the 1970s, it was converted into a retreat and conference centre, along with the monastery.

After their numbers shrank to about a dozen, the sisters sold the property to the South East Resource Development Council last year for use as a wellness centre for Indigenous people from Berens River, Brokenhead, Bloodvein, Black River, Hollow Water, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Poplar River First Nations.

Since the sale, the sisters — who range in age from the mid-70s to the ‘90s — have been leasing space in their former home while their new monastery is under construction in St. Boniface.

This included the use of the chapel, where they held services several times a week. Now, the new owners will begin renovating the space, so they need to give it up.

Coswin will miss it.

“A bedroom is a bedroom, a bathroom is a bathroom,” she said of moving from one place to another. “But this is an iconic space. There is nothing like the chapel.”

Thirty stained-glass windows designed by French artist Gabriel Loire helped to make it special.

“I hope they stay in the chapel,” said Coswin. “If not, we will plan to rescue them.”

The sisters will take other elements from the chapel, such as the altar; the crux gemmata, or jeweled cross; the baldachin, the canopy over the altar; and the baptismal font. They will be used in the chapel in the sisters’ new home.

While she knows they can worship anywhere, “It won’t be the same, oh my gosh no,” said Coswin.

Leaving the chapel has personal significance for her. “That’s where I felt the call to join the community,” she said.

Friday’s special closing service was important for all the sisters.

“It’s place where, for 61 years, we celebrated the eucharist, received blessings and healings and experienced joys and sorrows,” said Levandosky. “It’s sad to leave it, but we know it will be put to good use.”

During the service, the sisters symbolically transferred use of the chapel to the new owners. “We were taking our heritage and legacy of prayer and hospitality and transferring it to them,” Coswin said.

The service included the gifting of a small cedar tree to Damon Maple and Tahl East of the council.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” said East of the gift. “We are thankful for this space. We see all the beauty in it.”

In his response, Maple thanked the sisters for selling the council the monastery “in the spirit of truth and reconciliation,” and sang a thank-you song.

For Coswin, the council’s mission of health and wellness for Indigenous people is “an extension of what we were doing before. That’s exactly why we are so happy to pass it on to them.”

While sad to no longer be able to use the chapel, Levandosky noted the sisters will be OK.

“Beauty and sacredness are everywhere,” she said.

The sisters plan to move into their new monastery next summer.

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John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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