To the left of the foyer was a wide set of wooden stairs, known as the Novitiate staircase. These stairs led from the second up to the third floor, where the Novices, the women training to become nuns, lived and studied. In the eyes of the students at the school, these stairs were an entrance to a forbidden world, to which only Novices and Sisters were allowed to go. Some of the little girls believed that the young Novices were rising up to visit the angels each time they climbed the stairs, and there was a very real sense of excitement for anyone who was permitted to use the Novitiate staircase for a special reason.
The Novitiate officially opened at St. Ann's in 1889, and over the next 80 years, those stairs would be climbed thousands of times. This began to leave a distinctive mark on the woodwork, for the centre of each step became hollowed out. "It would only be the Sisters' steps that hollowed it out", recalls a former resident of the convent. There was a sense of history for the women, looking at the marks left behind by generations of Sisters going up and down the stairs.
Cleaning the stairs was a necessary chore that the Novices were grateful to avoid. Dust would rise into their faces as they scrubbed and polished them to the level of cleanliness that was expected. The rungs and railings also had to be polished.
The ceremony where the Novices made their final vows and professions, to enter the Sisterhood, were taken in the chapel. Wearing their veils and holding candles, they would descend the staircase in a procession to the flower-filled chapel. This would be their final journey down the Novitiate Staircase as Novices, for the next time they climbed it, they would be Professed Sisters.
These steps were symbolic to the Sisters, Novices and pupils of St. Ann's for many reasons, representing important stages in their lives, and the changes they made between childhood and becoming an adult. This historical role was recognized by the restoration team, and the woodwork was carefully restored. The railing had been dismantled, so it was a challenge to fit all of the custom-made pieces back together. Many of the pieces were taked from another stair railing in the building. Like many other parts of the Academy, historic picgraphs played a large role in returning the Novitiate's staircase to its former beauty. The stairs are visible to visitors to the Interpretive Centre, but they remain restricted to those who have a reason to travel to the third floor. The rope from the bell tower hangs at the side of the railing, ready to ring the bell as it did when the Novices lived above.
Click here for more on the restoration of St. Anns Academy.
Several of the older Sisters could not manage the stairs, and an elevator was installed for their use. It was an old 'cage' elevator, with open metalwork, that was operated by one of the Sisters, who would sit and wait for the busy periods between classes, when there was the most need to travel between the floors. The elevator began operating in September of 1925, but not without mechanical troubles, for it was known to stop between the floors. The students were generally not allowed to use the elevator, so some of the girls would pretend to have leg injuries, to sneak a ride!