Concordia’s downtown residence is a great place for students to have a unique university experience
Only at Concordia will you use the words “dorm room” and “crypt” in the same sentence. At Concordia’s Grey Nuns Residence, dorm life is special in many ways.
Grey Nuns, a former nunnery, is the ideal place for students living on campus who want the ultimate university experience.
The Grey Nuns of Montreal were a Roman Catholic charitable organization founded on the evening of Dec. 31, 1737 by Marguerite D’Youville. The building on Guy Street became the motherhouse of the congregation in 1871, built to house around 1,000 nuns, three schools, and community services like an orphanage, charity efforts, hospitals and offices, according to an article on Concordia’s official website.
Concordia bought the motherhouse in 2004 as the number of actual nuns began to dwindle. The West Wing of the building was refurbished and has been housing university students since 2007. When the last of the Grey Nuns moved out and relocated in 2013, the East Wing was refurbished as well and the building became home to hundreds of undergraduate students, according to an article Concordia’s official website.
The residence currently houses around 600 students with 67 countries being represented, based on a report from Lauren Farley, West Side manager of Grey Nuns.
The nunnery also holds a haunting history. While Concordia has renovated most of the building into dorm rooms, in the basement there is a crypt under the cement where about 280 nuns have been buried.
Adding to the spookiness, according to a 1918 article in La Patrie, on Feb. 14, 1918, a fire broke out on the top floor of the West Wing of the nunnery, where orphans and infants were staying. Over 60 children were killed.
Due to the incidents that occurred years ago, residents seem to have a lot to say when it comes to answering the age-old question of “Is Grey Nuns haunted?” The different “haunted” experiences vary greatly through word of mouth. Whether it’s what seem to be scary dreams of nuns to spotting ghostly figures in the halls, the Grey Nuns history is very alive in people’s minds.
“I haven’t had any experiences but I’ve definitely felt like I haven’t been alone in a room,” said resident Holly Rowett. Fellow resident Keeara Byrnes feels the same. “I’m constantly feeling as though I am sharing my space with other people. There have been multiple times that I have seen both nuns and children walking around corners and standing in the lifts,” she said. There have been stories about floating orbs seen at Grey Nuns. Students have also tried taking photos of the Grey Nuns crypt only to have the pictures turn out mysteriously blurry.
“It’s an interesting theory,” said resident Angélique Thériault, when asked if she thinks the building is haunted. Thériault’s family is tied to the building in more ways than one. “I had a great aunt who was a Grey Nun that lived at the Grey Nuns Residence before it was sold to Concordia,” she said. “We would visit her sometimes, so I was able to see it before it was changed and renovated.” Thériault said that the room in which she signed her lease in was the same room where her great aunt’s memorial service took place. “It’s very weird seeing it not as religious as it was,” she said.
Nowadays, the modernized building offers a lot to students looking for the perfect mix between studying and socializing. Locations such as group study rooms and the well-known Reading Room in the chapel are popular study spaces for students looking for quiet escape, which can be hard to find when there are so many people living in one building. These spaces are also open to any Concordia student with a student ID. The residence also offers an art room, where students can paint on the walls, and multiple games rooms, equipped with a T.V., a pool table and even a piano.
Some consider the cafeteria to be the centre of life in residence. “I’ve learnt that the [cafeteria] is the hub of Grey Nuns. It’s where you learn the most about people, and the easiest place to experience the people of Grey Nuns being themselves,” said Byrnes. “Most people, I find, don’t go to the cafeteria because they’re hungry for food, they go because they’re hungry for conversation.”
One of the main benefits of living in residence with fellow students is the community aspect. “It’s a big community of people so it’s really cool that you get to see so many people. Every day you [could] meet a new person, if you wanted to,” said Rowett.
Residence assistants (R.A.s) also have the advantage of living in residence—not only having experiences of their own, but learning about other people. “We’re all trying to meet somebody new. That’s all we’re trying to do, trying to learn something about what other people have to offer, especially because it’s university and we’re all being focused and studying one thing,” said R.A. Miguel Laliberte. “It’s interesting to hear what other people are learning.”
R.A.s have the responsibility of overseeing their floors, creating relationships with students, and answering questions. R.A.s help students adapt to university life. They also organize events for students to meet others and experience Montreal.
A drawback of living at Grey Nuns is that hundreds of other students are around as well, which makes for a less private living experience.
“It’s very noisy. There isn’t much noise cancellation in the walls, even though East Wing is renovated,” said Thériault. “It’d be nice to get some quiet sometimes.” With easy access to the downtown bars, students will often come in very late at night. “When you’re passed out sleeping and the [students who were out partying] are coming back inside, sometimes I get random knocks at 3 a.m. and that wakes me up,” said Laliberte.
Despite the downsides of sharing a roof, Grey Nuns Residence is a hive of activity, rich in opportunities for residents to get connected with school, with history, with the city, and with each other.