“When people think of sisters, they often think of strict, disciplined women who hide behind the walls of old, medieval buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
These are the words of Lana who participated in an internship in our Heritage House for her Public History course at the University of Gent . During her work experience, Lana contributed to the ‘narrative care’ project in which we record the life stories of our elderly sisters.
What is narrative care?
Narrative care has been very popular in the care for the elderly in recent years. Narrative care is based on the need of the elderly to look back at their lives. By giving meaning to events and choices made in their past, seniors can increase their ability to deal with physical and mental vulnerability in their present time.
In the Heritage House, we apply narrative care to elderly nuns who, in addition to their physical frailty, are also confronted with a secularised society that often has little understanding of the life choice they made as young women by going to the convent. Today, only few people know that these women often belonged to the first generation of female university graduates or that many were directors of large schools and care facilities. Such was the case with Sr Gaby (Sr Gabrielle-Marie), who was a pioneer in the education of the deaf and the care of adults with intellectual disabilities.
Visiting Sr. Gaby
Below, Lana describes in her own words how she experienced her work experience and meetings with Sr. Gaby.
“When talking about religious sisters, people often think of strict, disciplined women who hide behind the walls of old, medieval buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth, because during my period at the Erfgoedhuis | Sisters of Charity it became clear more than once that nuns are all tough ladies with tough stories.
I was given the task of interviewing a religious sister and thus reconstructing her life story. I visited Sister Gabrielle-Marie Holvoet, better known as “Sister Gaby”, three times in total. Through those couple of detailed conversations, I not only learned more about her personal journey with the Sisters of Charity, but also about convent life in general.”
Beyond the clichés
Lana continues: “Of course, most clichés turn out not to be true and there is much more to convent life than we would all think. Sisters’ lives are completely dedicated to faith, service, and charity, and this is reflected in the tasks they take on. Sister Gaby, for example, has dedicated her entire life to teaching children who are deaf and hard of hearing and to guiding children with disabilities. When you hear her speak fondly of her professional career, you truly realise that she has devoted herself to her tasks.”
“To this day, religious sisters live the values of faith and I am not saying that we should necessarily follow in their footsteps in terms of religious life, but what I do firmly believe is that we could learn a lot from them about love and tolerance.”
A present for Sr Gaby
As a memento, Lana also gave Sister Gaby a fully typed and beautifully bound copy of her unique life story. And of course, we have also included a copy in our library.