Quebec City, Canada — With exposed steel beams stretching three stories high, open walkways and sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows revealing a view of Old Quebec, the entrance of Le Monastère de Augustines is strikingly modern. Yet when guests walk toward reception, they step back in time: The desk is built straight into what used to be the side of the Augustine Sisters' 17th-century monastery.
"If something looks old in the monastery, it actually is," said Marie-Eve Perron, manager of tourism development for the nonprofit and public trust La Fiducie du patrimoine culturel des Augustines, which now runs Le Monastère on behalf of the Augustinian Sisters.
The antique monastery has been home to the sisters since 1644 as they offered medical care to the community at their hospital next door, Hotel Dieu. Now, the building serves as a luxury healing hotel, featuring 65 rooms, wellness activities, massage and meditation treatments, an organic restaurant and a serene atmosphere. Rooted in the history and mission of the Augustinian Sisters, the monastery also features exhibition halls with more than 40,000 relics from generations of sisters there, historical medical equipment, and documents and ancient books that attract researchers and historians from around the world.
The sisters are still there, too. They call it a living museum: Though most are retired, the sisters live in a portion of the building and are seen on the grounds.
The youngest resident of the rectory is Augustinian Sr. Sarah McDonald, 37. She and three other sisters from other Augustinian monasteries run the Centre Catherine de Saint Augustin, welcoming pilgrims and visitors to the life and legacy of their French canoness, Blessed Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin. McDonald and her sisters minister to guests, whether they stay at the hotel or visit loved ones at Hotel Dieu.
"We didn't just want it to be the museum in the past — 'This is what the sisters did' — but 'This is what we do.' This is how we live," McDonald said.
After 25 years of deliberation, collaboration and construction, the shrinking number of sisters living at the monastery opened their home and legacy to the public as a way to repurpose the space. They wanted to share it with the community but still use it in their longtime healing mission, McDonald said.
Rehabilitation and conversion of the monastery began in 2013. It opened as a hotel to the public in 2015.
"It took a lot of courage for the sisters to open up their monastery," McDonald said, calling the project "audacious" because most of her sisters joined the community when it was cloistered 50 or 60 years ago.