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Elkins Park Dominicans Announce Sale of Motherhouse Property

ELKINS PARK, PA ---The Dominican Sisters of Elkins Park, announced recently that they have signed an agreement for the sale of the Dominican Retreat House, to Westrum Development Company of Fort Washington, PA.

The sale includes the 42 acres of land and the five historic buildings of the campus: the main building (Our Lady of Prouille), St. Dominic Hall, St. Catherine Hall, the Gate Cottage a cluster of cottages and workshops, and the administrative offices of the congregation in a building called Fanjeaux.

While the sale is in process retreats and spiritual programs will continue until June of 2007.

Paraphrasing the book of Ecclesiastes, Sr. Carolyn Krebs, OP, President of the congregation, said, “There is an appointed time for everything and a time for every affair under the heavens; time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant. There is a time for gratitude and a time for sadness. There is a time for handing over and letting go, a time for laying down one's task and preserving the past. A time to rest from your labors and a time to take up a new journey.”

There are a total of 75 sisters in the congregation. About 36 sisters live on the campus. St. Catherine Hall -- the retirement center of the congregation -- is also on the property and will continue to serve as a residence for retired sisters until mid 2009. Planning is in process to locate new residences for the sisters on the retreat house staff and the sisters who are retired, but no details are being announced as yet. The terms of the sale are not being disclosed.

Some of the reasons for this decision:

Over the last 15 or 20 years, maintenance of the estate has become increasingly difficult due to rising repair and energy costs, higher operating expenses and the increased age of the Dominican Sisters. The cost of maintenance has outpaced the congregation’s fund raising program and its tradition of keeping retreat programs as affordable and at the lowest cost possible to retreatants. Most retreat centers in the US face similar funding and maintenance issues.

The decision to work with Westrum Development was precipitated by the desire of the community find a compatible future use for the property that would extend the community’s mission in some way. Since the people who have come to retreats have come to enhance their spiritual well being, providing a continuing care retirement facility, which aims to address the holistic well being of the person, is seen as an appropriate extension of that service.

Sr. Carolyn continued, “ We are excited to be in partnership with Westrum Development of Fort Washington, PA, an award winning company in our area ,who has a new vision for this graceful estate we call Our Lady of Prouille.” The company will begin an extensive staged renovation of the Main Building, St. Dominic' Hall and the other buildings on the property. The renovation will result in a new state of the art continuum of care for senior residents. In addition, Westrum Development has clearly demonstrated a desire to preserve and maintain the historical character of the buildings, and the beauty of the grounds.

The congregation’s leadership is actively working with the sisters who live and minister on the property to create new opportunities for ministry and residence. Many sisters have strong ties in the city of Philadelphia and the General Council is working with them to identify new possibilities.

While the discernment of future relationships with the Northeast Six and the disposition of the motherhouse property are intimated related processes for us, each process has its own challenges and complexities. The Elkins Park Dominicans bring a strong commitment to ministry and a keen appreciation for the importance of seeing God’s hand in the present moment. In the 125 year history of the congregation, our motherhouse has been relocated several times: first in Albany, NY, then Media, PA (1960) and in Elkins Park (1989). This draws us to embrace Dominican itinerancy in a new, yet familiar way.

The Dominican Sisters, who have conducted retreats and days of recollection in Elkins Park for nearly 75 years, rightly lay claim to opening the first retreat house for women in the United States in 1897 (Albany, NY). The house at Elkins Park was at one time the largest retreat house for women in the country. Thousands of women and men have come to Elkins Park seeking a deeper peace and to experience the movement of God in their lives. They have been refreshed, renewed and revitalized within these walls and on these beautiful grounds. The Sisters here have been instruments of peace and renewal and their mission continues in other places around the city of Philadelphia and throughout the United States.

The Elkins Park mansion is over 100 years old and is historically significant to Cheltenham Township and Montgomery County. The challenge to identify a viable and acceptable future for the property has been daunting. The local county government has a strong interest in preserving green space and historic properties and the congregational leadership has been very aware of the need to find a suitable new use for the structures that preserves the historic nature of the buildings. The sale offers positive alternatives for both the congregation and the township. In the new facilities, most of the grounds, gardens and green space will remain in tact.

source: Anne Lythgoe, OP Communications Coordinator

St. Catherine Hall -- the retirement center of the congregation -- is also on the property and will continue to serve as a residence for retired sisters until mid 2009.

Planning is in process to locate new residences for the sisters on the retreat house staff and the sisters who are retired.

Carolyn Krebs, OP


Since the time of St Dominic, more than 800 years ago, Dominicans have been living and sharing
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