When he crosses the door of the common dining room, holding his mother by the hand, Ange, 3 years old, is greeted with exclamations. Sister Monique, seated on his right, makes puppets for him with her hands; a volunteer slips a bowl of cornflakes under his nose. A few minutes later, the little boy is dragged into the library by Sister Marie, “almost 80 years old”who wants to read him a story. “I went back twenty years,” will then confide, enchanted, this auxiliary nun, former volunteer of ATD Fourth World, who once animated street libraries in the working-class neighborhoods of Marseille. Ange, her mother Sylvie, a single mother, as well as sisters Monique and Marie are among the new residents of Maison Saint-Charles. After years of work, this property of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation opened its doors at the end of December 2021, rue de Vaugirard, in the 15and arrondissement of Paris, to host an intergenerational residence, supported by Habitat et Humanisme and the congregation.
Since the opening, ten single-parent families and fifteen young workers have moved into social housing, as well as twenty elderly nuns from five different congregations into housing for seniors. With 3,600 m2 protected green spaces and open to the outside, the place also includes guest rooms for social purposes, a coworking space and meeting rooms. Two intergenerational dwellings, which must accommodate a single-parent family, an elderly person and a young person, are still waiting for their residents.
Owned by nuns since 1872, this vast complex has successively housed an orphanage, then a primary school and its boarding school. But the buildings becoming dilapidated, the welcome “rustic”, and the premises no longer welcoming sisters for five years, “He asked himself the question, in 2012, of the future of the place”, says Véronique Margron, Superior General of the Congregation of the Dominicans of the Presentation. Rather than sell it, like many other unused buildings of the congregations, the order chose to transform the site, “given its beauty and symbolic character”. Following a meeting with Bernard Devert, founder of Habitat et Humanisme, the project for an intergenerational house was born. “It respected the dimension of welcome specific to the house since its origins; the social dimension, since the residents are precarious people”explains Véronique Margron, while emphasizing that “intergenerational life is a reality of religious life”.
After four years of work carried out by Vinci Immobilier, a year of discussion with local residents and readjustments, the house, designed by the architectural firm h2o, is finally open. The rear land has been sold, and the neo-Gothic chapel completely renovated. On the stained glass windows, the artist Flavie Serrière Vincent-Petit has painted flowering mimosas. “It is creation”, raves Sister Monique, big glasses and a purple beret matching her wool vest; ” it’s Laudato si’», adds Sister Laurence. “The community maintains the spiritual dimension of the house, without any proselytismcontinues Véronique Margron. The sisters represent the stable community, the place of peace”, compared to residents who have often experienced more complicated situations.
The nuns have moved into studio apartments “big as three times our cells!” », raves Sister Marie-Armelle, helper. “It’s still extraordinary, at the age we have, to be able to participate in a new project, which makes sense, with our weakening means”, enthuses Sister Monique, summing up the general feeling.
But for the time being, we must, with the residents, take “time to get used to” as Sister Laurence says. While waiting for the pottery and gardening workshops to start, conviviality takes shape in the elevator. Sister Monique met Sylvie there, Ange’s mother, who moved into her own apartment at the end of December, after several years in a social hotel. Raised in religious boarding schools in Cameroon, she was happy to find a place with a spiritual dimension for her son. The following Saturday, she came to pray in the chapel, in the evening, with the sisters.