History of the Monastery

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A Brief History of Our Lady

of Grace Monastery


Our Lady of Grace Monastery, located in the town of Monastery, N. S. – about 25 minutes east of Antigonish – has roots deep in the history of Nova Scotia and is a historic landmark of the region. The Monastery was originally founded in 1825 by a Trappist monk from France: Fr. Vincent de Paul Merle. He called the new monastery “Petit Clairvaux” after the Cistercian monastery in France made famous by St. Bernard. It was the first Trappist foundation in North America.


Trappists lived, worked and prayed at the monastery continuously from 1825 till 1919 with the exception of the years 1900 – 1903. The Trappist community that struggled from the beginning of the foundation was greatly helped by a large contingent of monks from Belgium who arrived in 1857. Under their direction the monastery flourished and saw at one time 45 monks in residence. However two fires, one in 1892 which destroyed the monastery and another in 1896 which destroyed the farm buildings, along with other difficulties, caused the Belgian monks in 1900 to vacate the Monastery and move to Rhode Island. The present monastery building was begun in 1894 to replace the one that burned down.


In 1903 another group of Trappists sought refuge from religious persecution at Monastery. They came from France, but due to the scarcity of vocations and the easing of the persecutions in that country they returned in 1919.


For the next 19 years the monastery remained vacant. In 1938 a group of German Augustinians purchased the property and began the hard work of restoration. This was the first foundation of the Augustinian Order in Canada. The Augustinians restored the buildings on the property and renamed the monastery “St. Augustine’s”. In addition to the various ministries which they provided for the local community the Augustinians established a model farm.

 Over the years the Augustinians accomplished many good works at the monastery: A retreat house was opened in 1948; a wayside shrine to Our Lady of Grace, in a beautiful rustic setting on the property was established and opened in May 1952; a high school for young men was founded in 1954 (Good Counsel Academy) and in 1972 a rehabilitation center for alcoholics (Recovery House) was established. In 1960 the present chapel was built. In more recent years, due to declining numbers of men, the Augustinians decided to leave the monastery and transfer those who remained to their house of Marylake, in King City, north of Toronto.


In the Fall of 2000 there arrived a new group of monks to continue the work so courageously begun by the Trappists and carried forward by the Augustinians. They have renamed the monastery “Our Lady of Grace”. The new monks form part of a small monastic order of Eastern Catholics of the Maronite rite which is in union with the Pope. They are called “Monks of St. Maron” after the father of the Maronite Church. They live a simple life of prayer, work and silence similar to that of the Trappists. At present there are 7 monks in residence, 4 priests and 3 brothers. The monastery is, above all, a place of prayer and the monks strive to maintain at the monastery a quiet atmosphere conducive to prayer. The chapel is open to the public during the day (5 a.m. –  9 p.m.) and the outdoor shrine of Our Lady of Grace, located about one half mile down the road from the monastery proper, is also open to the public. The monks also maintain a retreat house. Men who are interested in a few days of spiritual refreshment are welcome to come and live at the monastery and are free to join the monks in their daily life of prayer. All who are interested are welcome to join the monks for mass (weekdays: 7:30 a.m. and Sundays 8:00 a.m.) or for Evening Prayer (6:20 p.m.) or Night Prayer (8:50 p.m.). There is also Eucharistic adoration at various times during the day. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also available from 2 – 4 p.m. Thursday – Saturday as well as 7 – 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.