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Belcourt Spirituality Centre

 

Belcourt Spirituality Centre, Rustico, PEI – GOOD FAITH LACKING IN DIOCESE’S DISMISSAL OF A CHERISHED COMMUNITY ASSET
 

Photo by C.W. Jeffery

Why it matters

The Belcourt Centre, formerly St. Augustine's Convent, is an important symbol for Prince Edward Island's Acadians, and a prominent structure in an extraordinary cultural landscape that includes the historic St. Augustine's Church (1838), the Parish House (1852), the Farmers' Bank of Rustico (a National Historic Site of Canada,1864-1894), Doucet House (c.1772) and the Barachois Inn (1880).

The survival of the Acadian culture and language in the area is credited to the establishment of a convent and school on this site in 1882. In the present building and in an earlier one destroyed by fire, the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame provided an education for the Acadians of Rustico for more than 80 years. After school consolidation in 1963, the building served as a summer residence for the Sisters of Notre Dame in the Maritimes until the Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown purchased it in 1977 and opened it as the Belcourt Spirituality Centre. It was named for Father Georges Antoine Belcourt, a caring and enterprising clergyman who, together with the Sisters of Notre Dame, played a prominent role in preserving the Acadian language and culture in Rustico. The Centre accommodates meetings and retreats for a number of faith groups and service organizations across the Island.

Why it’s endangered

The Diocese have announced their intention to use funds from a recent multi-million dollar bequest to demolish and replace the building. Pleas from the community that the Bishop consider integrating the existing building into the plans have fallen on deaf ears. While poor condition is cited as the rationale for demolition, a report outlining the condition of the building has failed to materialize, and indeed seems not even to have been made available to the project's own Advisory Committee.   

Where things stand

Demolition seems imminent. A community group formed within the Parish to raise awareness of the threatened demolition and seek alternatives has effectively been shut out by the Bishop—its request for an "open and sensitive approach" denied. Although both the original convent and the current building were constructed using volunteer labour generously supplied by parishioners, requests to have a resident from the Parish named to the project's Advisory Board and to be given access to the interior of the building have also been denied. Likewise, the Bishop has apparently discounted a petition bearing 350 names urging the Diocese to consider renovating and adding to the building, rather than demolition.