Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 24, 1999
Still smiling after 75 years
Pair of Grey Nuns still active after three-quarters of a century of religious life
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The key to good health in your 90s is smiling. Forget the fact that science tells us smiling promotes wrinkles.
Sisters Louisa Dupuis and Lydia Noel are living proof that wrinkles take a backseat to an exuberant spirit.
"I don't need a cane to get around this place," said Dupuis, 98. "I thank God for letting me stand on my own two feet."
Radiant smiles light up the faces of both Dupuis and Noel as the two reminisce about their years as Sisters of Charity of Montreal, "Grey Nuns."
"I'm always happy," said Noel, 96. "I'm always smiling. . . . I'm happy everywhere I go."
This year marks Dupuis' and Noel's 75th anniversary in their religious order.
Noel was "happy when I was 19, I went to Montreal" to join the order. She was happy working as a nurse at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon, her first assignment as a nurse.
Happiness followed her pretty much everywhere, she said.
One of nine children born in what is now Fort Saskatchewan, Noel "felt that God was calling me" to the sisterhood.
She was trained as a nurse and her role was no different than what nurses are doing today: caring for the sick and the poor.
"But it was very hard work, harder than today," Noel said. "You had to work nine straight hours, never stopping. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it.
"It made me happy."
She later served as a nurse at Edmonton's General Hospital for nine years before making her rounds at hospitals on the U.S East Coast.
"I like the mentality of the Americans very much," she said. "With Canadians when we have problems, we always think it will get worse and we worry about that. When (Americans) have problems, they always think it will get better.
"I like that kind of thinking. That's the way I think . . . that everything only gets better."
For Noel, things only get better as the years go by. She maintains her health through her smiles and laughter.
After her retirement in 1973, Noel kept busy manning the switchboard at the Grey Nuns Regional Centre. She keeps her spirits up through prayer and reading her favourite book - the Bible - as well as a plethora of others.
"I pray for the needs of the entire world," she said. "Especially when you hear those bad things happening on TV. . . . I like to pray for all of that, for all the world."
At an age when many seniors are accustomed to relaxing in front of a TV or enjoying their downtime after dinner, Dupuis' energy kicks in. For more than 20 years, the corner of a storage area in the lower level of the Grey Nuns Centre has served as Dupuis' quilting haven.
The cupboards in the room are filled with a rainbow of fabric. Some given to her by friends, some are remnants of old outfits the nuns no longer wear. Seams of blue and pink pants, outdated fads from the heydays of the '70s polyester era, have been ripped out and the material cut into strips.
In the middle of her corner is a waist-high table where Dupuis lays out her pattern. A medieval-looking black Singer sewing machine turns her scraps into colourful quilts.
"I don't like sitting in front of the TV like everyone else," said Dupuis, the eldest of the centre's residents. "I come here and make my quilts instead."
Dupuis spends two to three hours every evening working on her projects. She estimates that since moving to the centre in 1970, she has completed 205 quilts.
The quilts were originally sold and the money given to local charities. Now the quilts are given to charity groups for auctions or raffle events.
"The money is for the poor," Dupuis said. "I always wanted to help the poor."
Helping the poor was Dupuis' calling in life. Born the youngest of 12 children on a farm in St. Jean-Baptiste, Man., Dupuis recognized the realities of poverty around her at an early age.
"There were a lot of poor people around. Poor farmers and their families had very little to eat."
Dupuis joined the order when she was 21. Like Noel, her first assignment was at a hospital - St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.
"I was a jack of all trades," she said. "I did a little of everything."
Her main responsibility was purchasing and maintaining the hospital's inventory. She stayed in that role for 20 years.
After working in other parts of Manitoba, then Edmonton and Calgary, she settled at the Grey Nuns Centre and ran the archives.
"I was doing the archives during the day, then I would go in the evening and do the quilts," Dupuis said. "I learned to do it by myself. It's all from my head.
"I didn't take a class for it. I just learn as I do it."
Dupuis and Noel said they have led full lives filled with people and memories.
"I have been very happy in my life," Noel said followed by her signature smile. "It feels pretty good (to celebrate my 75th anniversary). I know soon God will come and get me."
Dupuis on the other hand is wondering what more she can do while she's still alive and kicking.
"I don't feel like I've had 99 years," said Dupuis, who will celebrate her birthday in August. "I want to do more. There's more poor people I want to help."
Dupuis will celebrate her 75 years in religious service with friends and family in Manitoba, while Noel will celebrate at a jubilee celebration Mass, May 22, at the Grey Nuns Centre.
The Mass will also mark the anniversaries of Sister Anna Bisson, 70 years; Sisters Fernande Michaud, Annette Potvin, Simone Mageau, Annette Mageau, Yvonne Thibert, Irene Lefebvre and Marie-Ange Charlebois, 60 years; and Sisters Simone Champagne, Helene Desmarais and Alice Prefontaine, 50 years.