Repurposing religious sites 

By Karen Herland

The relationship between western religions and our physical environment is rapidly changing with tremendous repercussions socially, culturally and economically. This effects an ever-growing number of monumental building complexes that have both great heritage value and potential for future use.

Balancing those priorities has preoccupied Concordia since it acquired the Grey Nuns Mother House as part of the expanding Quartier Concordia project. On Oct. 7, Concordia will host the launch of Religious Houses: A Legacy, an international conference examining the challenges of repurposing convents, abbeys, monasteries and missions.

The conference is co-organized by Concordia, UQAM and the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec. Invited guests include representatives from Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and Mexico, as well as North America. “It treats the issue as an intellectual matter and moves it into a wider socio-cultural scope than merely real estate development,” said Clarence Epstein, responsible for special projects and cultural affairs, Office of the President.

As the question of acquiring a historic site begins to involve more members of the university community, the Faculty of Fine Arts has taken a particular interest — since the Mother House will be its new home. A related show at the FOFA Gallery is slated to open simultaneously and a public lecture by urban heritage specialist, Luc Noppen, titled “The Renaissance of Convents” will take place on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. at the D.B. Clarke Theatre.

Art History professor Cynthia Hammond has invited students in two architectural history seminars (one undergraduate and one graduate) to the conference. “I’m looking forward to the perspectives of an international range of scholars on the global question of religious heritage,” said Hammond, stressing there are often very different views.

On Oct. 10, the conference moves to the École des Ursulines in Quebec City. Epstein explained the split between Montreal and Quebec City allows participants to visit a range of repurposed institutions. On the afternoon of Oct. 11, the final day of the conference, nearly 20 religious complexes across Quebec will open their doors to the public for free, guided tours. For more, go to


Concordia University