The History of Our Lady of Grace Monastery

The monastery was initially founded as Petit Clairveax in 1825 by Trappist Father Vincent de Paul (Jacques Merle) who faithfully served the Acadians and Mi’kmaq in the area (In 1868 a settlement of Tracadie was renamed Merland in his honour). A number of monks from Belgium arrived in 1857 which helped the monastery a great deal. Sadly, in 1892 the entire monastery burned to the ground, but thankfully no one was killed. The monastery was rebuilt in 1894 (the main building that stands on the site today). In 1902 the Timadeuc community of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance purchased the monastery from the Spencer community in order to found a refuge, while Spencer moved to Providence RI. In 1919 Timadeuc returned to France and left the monastery vacant.

For more on the early history of the Monastery, see: Pioneer monks in Nova Scotia, Luke Schrepfer (1947).

The Monastery in Modern Times

In 1938 when Hitler was at the height of his power in Germany and it was evident that all Religious Orders would be expelled from that country, a group of German Augustinians purchased the monastery, renamed it “St. Augustine’s” and restored it. The Augustinians established a model farm in service of the community, opened a retreat house in 1948, and opened Our Lady of Grace Shrine and the Holy Spring in 1952. Additionally, they built the present chapel in 1960 and established a recovery house in 1972. In 1999, declining in numbers, the Augustinian Fathers left the monastery and transferred to their house in Marylake, north of Toronto.

A group of Maronite monks arrived at the monastery in 2000 and gave it the current name “Our Lady of Grace”. The Monks of St. Maron lived a simple life of prayer, work and silence. They maintained the monastery as a place of quiet prayer and provided daily public services as well as maintaining the retreat house. The Maronite monks also made major improvements to the chapel and exterior of the retreat house. The Maronite monks left the monastery in 2007.

In late 2007, the Contemplative Augustinian Nuns from Rome moved into the Monastery. The Nuns dedicate their lives to prayer and a mission that includes the preservation  and maintenance of the historic Our Lady of Grace Monastery and Shrine as a place of worship and spiritual refuge.

The Monastery Today

Chapel, Retreat House and Our Lady of Grace Shrine

Chapel – The chapel building was constructed in 1952. The building is a one storey wood frame structure with a small rear balcony. The building was constructed on a concrete slab foundation. Much of the building has been upgraded since 2002 and it has received a good standard of maintenance since. The building was constructed using good quality materials and workmanship for the day. Attached to the chapel is a Sacristy room for preparation and storage of items and includes extensive cabinetry. The Maronite monks installed hot water in floor radiant heating in the chapel during their tenure at the monastery. The chapel area has exposed brick walls and wood cathedral ceilings and the overall condition of this structure is quite good.

Retreat House – This building consists of a masonry exterior frame with wood frame floors. The perimeter walls and roof structure of the retreat house were remediated by the Maronite monks. The brickwork was repointed where necessary and new windows and doors were installed. The building was constructed using good quality materials and workmanship for the day but the building is now exhibiting signs of deferred maintenance. The building exhibits a generally functional layout for its intended purpose but is very under utilized at present.

Our Lady of Grace Shrine – Located in a natural outdoor setting, the Shrine’s in-going and out-going paths wend along a tiny rippling brook to a birch and fern banked place of prayer. Stations of the Cross mark the way along the short in-going path. The Shrine is known as “Holy Spring.” Cool, crystal clear water constantly bubbles from a rock braced spring. The beginning of this hallowed spot reached far back to the history of the “Belgian Monks.” The discovery and blessing of the refreshing spring is credited to the third prior of the Monastery, Fr. James Deportment, who had arrived there in 1857 or 1858.

Our Lady of Grace Shrine did not escape the ravages of Hurricane Fiona in September, 2022. There was significant erosion to the walkways and a number of fallen trees and broken branches. The Shrine will require remediation work in advance of the annual rosary procession to the Chapel of Saint Anne in July, 2023.

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