WELL Q&A: Healing & Contemplation at Le Monastère des Augustines

Last updated August 7, 2023

When I arrived at Le Monastère des Augustines, I knew this was no ordinary “wellness hotel.”  

From the moment I entered I could feel a special energy. The energy of almost 400 years of caretaking, compassion and heart of the Augustinian Sisters. 

I will admit that I worried before my trip that I might be bored. The offerings here were nothing like that of many destination spas I’ve visited in the United States. No extensive list of fitness classes, TVs in the room or evening activities. In fact, the authentic rooms had shared baths (I loved it!).  

But all of these “modern day concerns” melted away as I immersed myself in the experience. I can honestly say I adored the slower pace which allowed me to hear myself think, to feel more centered, to let go of the busyness of my everyday life. 

The treatments are world class, the food delicious and nourishing, the walks refreshing and the location just right. It’s comforting to know that a place like Le Monastère des Augustines exists for those times when you truly need to put life in perspective and focus on yourself for a while. 

Interview with Isabelle Duchesneau, Founding Executive Director & General Manager

Isabelle Duchesneau from Le Monastère des Augustines

Isabelle Duchesneau has extensive management experience with internationally-renowned companies in the tourism industry. She holds a university degree in Business Administration and a diploma in Human Kinetics and Neuro-coaching. She worked as a college professor in Hotel Management and a consultant for organizations in the Wellness Tourism industry for many years. 

In 2012, Isabelle’s passion for all aspects of holistic health led her to her role as Executive Director in the design, development and implementation of an innovative concept for Le Monastère des Augustines, a unique, monastery-turned-retreat.

Sallie: You’ve been a part of Le Monastère des Augustines before they opened their doors in 2015. Can you tell us how it came to be built?

Isabelle Duchesneau: For nearly four centuries, the Augustinian Sisters devoted themselves to caring for others, while laying the foundation for our modern healthcare system in North America. 

Since they founded their first hospital in 1639, the Augustinian Sisters always used a holistic approach to health. Until 1965 (the year the Canadian government took over the management of our health system), they were managing hospitals with a vision of harmony between science and spirituality.

Confronted with their community’s decline in numbers, the Augustinian Sisters, after 20 years of reflection, chose to pass their precious heritage within their lifetime. This included the founding monastery-hospital, 50,000 medical and ethnological artifacts and one kilometer of archives.

After an investment of $42 million dollars by the Canadian Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments and three years of renovation, this precious and unique heritage building reopened to the public in 2015.

Le Monastère Entrée nuit

Sallie: How did you personally become involved with the creation of this unique Wellness Hotel and Heritage Center?

Isabelle Duchesneau: I was personally brought on board of this unique project in 2012 as Executive Director to develop the business plan and create a unique concept with a modern vision. 

Even if non-confessional or religious in nature, the practices at Le Monastère are deeply rooted in the Augustinian Sisters’ mission and values and are lived in a contemporary center dedicated to holistic health. 

We invite people to have an authentic experience in this heritage site. The property comprises 65 rooms, a museum, an archive center, a mindful cuisine restaurant, multifunctional rooms, a boutique, and a wide range of activities and specialized services in holistic health.

Sallie: Le Monastère is a “Social Mission.” What exactly does that mean?

Isabelle Duchesneau: We are a non-profit organization that integrates revenue-generating components to support its social mission and cultural and heritage mandates. Our social mission keeps faith with that of the founding sisters. This means the well-being of individuals and societies and the care of health professionals and caregivers.

Sallie: How does sustainability fit into the mission of Le Monastère des Augustines?

Isabelle Duchesneau: The mission of Le Monastère des Augustines is to ensure the preservation of the Augustinian Sisters’ material, immaterial and social heritage.  All efforts and resources have been combined so that future generations will continue to enjoy this precious legacy. 

Sustainable and responsible development is one of the guiding principles of this project. The restoration and rehabilitation of the heritage building has called on considerable resources.  Several initiatives in sustainable development have been implemented during construction as well as during the implementation of the different products and services. 

Moreover, the mission of Le Monastère is to ensure that the Augustinian’s heritage is accessible to all and to give support and respite to those who care for others. The cultural and educational programs, the archives center open to researchers and the museum ticket policy are part of this desire to share and disseminate this unique heritage to the widest number of people.

Sallie: What are your hopes for the future of Le Monastère des Augustines?

Isabelle Duchesneau: My hope is that Le Monastère des Augustines continues to thrive for at least another 400 years.  

I hope we can continue to serve the community with our founding heritage which highlights a culture of care, social innovation, the evolution of western medicine and the benevolent leadership of these visionary, inspiring women representing one of the first entrepreneur women communities in North America.

Interview with Isabelle Houde, Assistant Executive Director 

Isabelle Houde from Le Monastère des Augustines

Isabelle Houde has 27 years of experience in marketing & communications. She worked for advertising agencies, a scientific research center and for a financial cooperative before changing her career for a job that allowed her to work in accordance with her values and passions by joining Le Monastère des Augustines. 

As Assistant Executive Director Isabelle’s role consists in developing the wellness offer in all sectors of the organization. She creates content and ensures the preservation of the brand in its holistic health mission. Isabelle is also very much involved in building and implementing the corporate culture of Le Monastère des Augustines.

Sallie: You are helping to shape the “signature” of Le Monastère des Augustines. Can you tell us about your signature wellness treatments?

Isabelle Houde: Our wellness offerings are based on holistic health principals where the healing focuses on the body, the mind, the emotional and spiritual pillars. 

What I believe shapes our “signature” is that it is deeply rooted in the hospitable tradition of the Augustinian Sisters, whose mission was to care for bodies and souls. We favor a state of calm and slowness. And we invite guests to savor silence and contemplation, to be mindful and to explore their five senses. 

We also promote disconnection with outside distractions to reconnect with the heart. This allows guests to hear their inner voice and to feel their bodies and souls. We practice this through the different treatments we offer.

Our benevolent, compassionate and loving staff is fully present to listen, to support, to accompany and to acknowledge our guests. Nothing is imposed.

What we believe is important is to offer the environment and conditions to help guests reconnect with themselves to understand what they need. 

Another important component of our “signature” is that through their journey at Le Monastère, guests discover the hidden treasure where culture, well-being and the quest for meaning come together to spark a transformational change in their lives.

Le Monastère Yoga in the 1695 vaults

Sallie: You are preserving a “Legacy of Care” at Le Monastère des Augustines. Please explain why this matters now more than ever.

Isabelle Houde: Nowadays everything goes so fast and everyone is so busy taking care of everything and everyone but themselves. I wonder if it has anything to do with the expression “save the best for last.” 

Unfortunately, that may be one of the reasons why so many people are tired, stressed and even burned out. The secret of the Augustinians sisters to maintain a balanced and healthy life was:

  • The anchoring of a vision and mission
  • The support of a caring community
  • Self-care as non-negotiable individual responsibility

The sisters always believed that to be able to care for others, you must first begin by taking care of yourself. 

Let’s take the example of a caregiver to illustrate the importance of that belief. Most caregivers are fully dedicated to the care of the person who needs help, and they usually feel indispensable. Many of them feel guilty that they are not the ones who are sick, so they don’t take time to care for themselves. 

When we think of care, exercise, diet, meditation and massages often come to mind, but self-compassion is also very important in a self-care practice.

Isabelle Houde

They slowly become exhausted which leads them to no longer be capable of giving care. In too many cases, some end up dying before the person they were caring for. I don’t want to be dramatic, but this example goes for mothers, leaders and whoever else prioritizes tasks and others before their own care.  

I don’t mean to say that they will die, but they can get physically and mentally sick. Or they can simply go on living without fullfillment. Moreover, we live in an interrelated ecosystem. The overall health of each individual has an impact on the health of others around them.

Sallie: Most people are inclined to listen to others, to welcome them and offer advice full of consideration and empathy. But what about when it comes to us?

I’d like to add that when we think of care, exercise and diet, meditation and massages often come to mind. But self-compassion is also very important in a self-care practice. 

Le Monastère relies heavily on the self-compassion that we should all feel toward ourselves. We should talk to ourselves as we would to our best friend, without being too demanding, without guilt and without judgment.

At Le Monastère we want to be an actor in promoting behavioral changes leading to global and sustainable health of citizens. We do this by informing, empowering and inspiring our guests with concrete tools that they can integrate into their daily lives to care for themselves. We believe this will have a positive impact on others as well.  

Sallie: Many guests will want to do your Holistic Health Consultation during their stay. Please tell us a bit about it.

Isabelle Houde: Revealing and rich in introspection, our holistic health consultations offer an overview of the five key elements of health:

  • Movement
  • Breathing
  • Nutrition/hydration
  • Sleep/relaxation
  • Search for meaning

We begin with a member of the staff who welcomes you with kindness. Together you will discuss your needs to promote your well-being. 

 What are your motivations regarding your overall health?  What tools could be integrated into your journey after you leave Le Monastère, to prolong the benefits? This moment allows you to reconnect with yourself and tends to make your daily life gentler and more harmonious.

As a complement to holistic health consultations, private “movement and relaxation” sessions, which are also included in our wellness packages, feature relaxation and revitalization methods. 

Breathing techniques, exercises to improve posture, stretching, etc… These are a great opportunity to connect with your body and to learn how to answer your needs, in all simplicity.

Sallie: What is the cuisine philosophy at Le Monastère?

Isabelle Houde: Our philosophy is based on mindful eating. Conscious or mindful eating promotes eating to satisfy your true hunger, while savoring meals slowly, without guilt, and in good company. 

Beyond these principals, consciousness entails being present and attentive. Therefore, conscious eating encourages us to pay attention to where foods come from, their benefits, as well as how chefs prepare them.

At Le Monastère the concept of mindful eating is practiced before, during and after a meal. We promote slowing down to reflect on your choices and feelings, to respect the needs of your body and to be in accordance with your values.

The food we serve is mainly organically sourced from local producers. We question our products’ traceability, its cultivation methods, breeding and processing. We maintain close ties with our producers. 

“We invite our guests to enjoy the present moment through each bite… with gratitude.”

Isabelle Houde

It is important for us to know the farmer’s values, the way they grow their food or raise their animals before purchasing them for our guests. We also share nutritional information and benefits with our guests to help them make their own choices with awareness.  

Our chefs prepare the food in a benevolent atmosphere because we believe that food tastes better when it is prepared with love! We serve meals that encourage our visitors to have a multi-sensory experience. 

Breakfast is served in silence. This morning ritual helps the system to relax and be fully focused on the experience of eating. 

Finally, we invite our guests to enjoy the present moment through each bite… with gratitude.

Sallie: You are located in beautiful Québec City. What are three “not to miss” experiences while there?

Isabelle Houde: Only three? This is a hard question because there is a lot to do and to see in Québec City. Experiences vary depending on the seasons, but I definitely recommend:

  • Walking in the streets of old Québec along the fortified walls surrounding this UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will see Chateau Frontenac, which is our most famous landmark. You can also stroll along Dufferin Terrace for a magnificent view of the St. Lawrence River.
  • Visiting Place Royale & Le Petit Champlain, a historical gem where Québec City was founded. The unique architecture combines French and British influences. In this area as well as on the charming pedestrian street of Petit Champlain, you will find local shops, art galleries and bistros. This part of town is really enchanting!
  • The Plains of Abraham, which was the site of the famous Battle of Québec, where the British won over the French. Today, this beautiful city park is approximately 1.3 miles long composed of grassy valleys and small wooded areas. This urban park is to Québec what Central Park is to New York. Many activities and festivals are held there throughout the year.

The greater Québec City region offers an extraordinary historical heritage and landscapes of great beauty. These three suggestions are all “not to miss” and in walking distance of Le Monastère des Augustines.

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