People test out the new labyrinth at Providence Farm that opened recently. (Photo by Robert Barron)

People test out the new labyrinth at Providence Farm that opened recently. (Photo by Robert Barron)

Childhood instilled a respect for nuns

Sisters of St. Ann’s deserve a mention for their enormous gift of 400-acre Providence Farm property

Having an obviously irate nun suddenly interrupt a conversation I was having at Providence Farm a few weeks ago brought back a lot of memories for me.

The nun, who was quite petite, was a member of the Sisters of St. Ann, which operated a school at the farm site for 100 years before gifting the entire 400-acre property to the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association in 2009.

The VIPCA currently operates programs at the facility for people with mental health issues, brain injuries and developmental disabilities.

The nun was upset that none of the visiting dignitaries and speakers had mentioned her Order’s contribution of the land when a new therapeutic labyrinth garden was unveiled in a well-attended ceremony, and insisted that I include the Sisters of St. Ann in any article I planned to write on the labyrinth and the farm.

I was raised Catholic and taught by nuns in the early grades, so I immediately and instinctively straightened up my posture and began checking my fingernails for dirt as the little old lady quickly approached.

Anybody who has ever attended a school run by nuns knows that slouching or being found with dirty fingernails will get you a hard smack from the long rulers all the nuns seemed to carry at the time.

I said “yes sister” or “yes ma’am” after every sentence she spoke, just like I did when I was a kid and got caught running in the school’s hallways, and I stood there ram-rod straight as if I was being interrogated by a drill sergeant.

I recall from my time in school that any other response than to agree with the nun talking to you would be quickly regretted.

I told her that I would remember to mention the Sisters of St. Ann in the story, and I did just that for fear that the nun would come around the corner at my office the day after the article was printed and berate me if I neglected my promise to her.

But, outside of my instinctive Catholic fear of the little nun, I did feel it was only right and fair to mention in my article the Sisters of St. Ann’s contribution to what Providence Farm has developed into today.

Its therapeutic gardening, landscaping, horticultural and other programs offered to people facing mental and physical challenges have been taken by hundreds over the years, and stories of how much the programs that take place in such a pastoral setting have helped these people abound.

The farm is also well known as a community centre which hosts annual folk festivals and other events that draw people from far and wide to the picturesque setting it provides.

Providence Farm has become a true asset to the Cowichan Valley that could have just as easily become another housing development if the Sisters of St. Ann didn’t have the foresight and generosity to hand over the site to the VIPCA.

In fact, the Sisters of St. Ann could have made quite a lot of money for the Order if they had decided to sell the property to developers.

That’s why the nuns should be remembered and recognized for their contribution of the farm for the good of those around them.

Despite the fear nuns instilled in students like me years ago, I think we all knew deep down that they were essentially good people who just wanted the best for us all in the end.

But I suspect that until the day I die, I will always snap to attention when being addressed by a nun.

Rober Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at