By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor
A groundbreaking ceremony for Franciscan Villa, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities’ future residence, was held Aug. 16 at 6900 Buckley Road in Salina. Sisters, some from as far as Hawaii and Florida, were joined by Bishop Robert Cunningham and many priests, religious, and friends, including Anna Koschel, who had lived in a house on a portion of the property for more than 40 years.
General Minister Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, spoke about the circle of life and shared with the gathered crowd an interesting piece of the congregation’s history.
In 1864, the Sisters of St. Francis in Central New York — numbering just 18 at the time — purchased land on which to build their new motherhouse. The parcel was near the current Franciscan Church of the Assumption on what is now Syracuse’s North side. At the time of the purchase, however, that land was within Salina’s boundaries.
“I think it’s a wonderful part of our circle of life that on this 16th day of August in the year 2012, we return to the Town of Salina to build our new residence. I’d say that’s some kind of a complete circle of 148 years,” Sister Patricia said.
Foundations on the North Side
The sisters have called St. Anthony Convent on Court Street in Syracuse home since 1896; currently, about 75 sisters live there and in the adjoining Jolenta Convent. A recent assessment of the structures, however, revealed an estimated $12 million in improvements would be necessary to bring the convents up to code. Work would include replacing all of the windows, the electrical and plumbing systems and the associated fixtures.
“When all that was considered, we knew it wouldn’t be wise to put those kinds of resources into a 116-year-old building,” Sister Patricia said.
The sisters looked into remodeling other buildings on their campus, but none were the right size to serve the community’s needs into the future. They decided a new building was necessary, but that their current campus did not have space for one.
Wanting to stay relatively close to their current location, the sisters evaluated available properties within a 10-mile radius. The plot of some 50 acres on Buckley Road was ultimately chosen for its proximity to the motherhouse just a few miles away, its convenient access to public transportation and its green space.
A new home
The community has partnered with senior housing company Hearth Management, LLC, which will build and manage Franciscan Villa. The sisters will lease the residence from Hearth Management; the community has committed to a 15-year lease.
Sister Patricia unveiled a rendering of Franciscan Villa at the groundbreaking ceremony. The facility will comprise 96 modest, private bedrooms, clustered in small groups around common areas, according to Hearth Management Chief Operating Officer Dan Suits. The residence will also include a chapel and offices. Courtyards and walking paths will allow the sisters to enjoy the outdoors.
Hearth Management’s Live More lifestyle programs will also promote physical independence, mental stimulation and community living — the “perfect answer to our prayers for a partner,” Sister Patricia said.
Suits said construction on the residence is anticipated to begin in September. The sisters hope to move into their new home in the fall of 2013.
Plans for Court Street campus
Bl. Marianne Cope’s shrine and the chapel will remain at the Court Street site and will be expanded and enhanced, Sister Patricia said. A new, larger Saint Marianne Cope Museum will be constructed on the campus as well, allowing her precious artifacts and archival materials to be preserved and showcased properly. Sister Patricia said the community is currently studying how to finance the museum’s construction.
The congregation’s administrative offices will also stay on Court Street, as will the NunBetter Chocolate Store. What will happen to St. Anthony Convent once the sisters have moved to Franciscan Villa, however, is still being determined.
“We have no immediate reuse for the building,” Sister Patricia said. “The practicality of maintaining a building that’s not in use is something that will have to be considered.” The space needed for the expansion of the shrine and chapel will also factor into the decision of whether to tear down the convent.
There is some sadness over having to leave the site the sisters have called home for more than 100 years, Sister Patricia said. “A number of sisters have lived the greater part of their lives in those two buildings, first living at the novitiate [Jolenta Convent’s original function], returning to the motherhouse from missions and retiring there after active ministry. It is a grounding, special place.”
“But the sisters understand the reality of the situation,” she continued. “Leadership regularly had conversations with the sisters whose lives would be affected by this change, explaining the financial cost of staying on Court Street and keeping them informed of plans. They understand we have to look at our resources for the future. This is an exciting opportunity for us to rethink how we’re currently living in community and to enhance that in our new home.