ST. FRANCIS — The aging facility that housed the Marian Center for Nonprofits until its closure this summer will be torn down to make way for a new convent it was announced Nov. 4.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, who own the property at 3195 S. Superior St. in St. Francis, will use the site as a home for aging members of their order.
A demolition date has not been set, nor has a timeline for construction been determined.
The order’s current motherhouse, located on an adjacent property, dates to the 1800s and is “inadequate for elder care” and “no longer meets the basic health and safety needs of the aging sisters,” according to the news release.
“The biggest thing is to provide the best care for the retired sisters, particularly the sisters with mental and dementia issues who need assisted living,” said Jean Merry, communications director of the Sisters of St. Francis. “The motherhouse just can’t be updated at any reasonable cost. It’s out of the question.”
There are three connected buildings on the property, the oldest of which, Loretto Hall, was built in 1904 as the original home of St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls high school. Rosary Hall and Clare Wing were added in the 1930s to accommodate St. Clare College, a forerunner to Cardinal Stritch University.
In 1991, St. Mary’s closed and the classrooms in the building were converted to affordable office space for nonprofits. The Marian Center for Nonprofits operated there until July 2016, when the ministry — sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis — was closed due to the building’s age and the cost of its upkeep.
It is precisely the cost of the upkeep that compelled the sisters to make this decision, said Merry. The facility is adequate for office space, but to maintain a building of that size simply for office space would be an inefficient use of funds, she said.
The sisters are working with Groth Design Group to design the new motherhouse, which will house 80 sisters as well as the order’s administrative offices. Architectural plans have not been completed, said Merry. The news of the existing building’s demolition was released to clear up misinformation that was circulating about plans for the property, she added.
The median age of a Sister of St. Francis is 82 years old, and about 40 elderly sisters live in small rooms on the third and fourth floors of the motherhouse. It is expected that sisters from out of state will also come to live at the new building, said Merry, with the ones needing the most assistance being given priority.
The building has no historic designation but is a beloved local landmark, so architecture enthusiasts will be glad to learn that the chapel and its steeple will be retained, with a new entrance. The sisters will also do what they can to salvage aspects of the building that have sentimental or historic value, said Merry. The large copper structure on the building’s facade will also be saved. Created by German master blacksmith Carl Wyland in the 1950s, it depicts St. Francis surrounded by animals.
In a letter about the demolition dated Nov. 3 and addressed to Marian Center staff, associates and St. Mary’s Academy alumni, director Sister of St. Francis of Assisi Diana De Bruin, and associate directors, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Marcia Lunz and Sylvia Anne Sheldon asked for the community’s “prayerful support.”
“This is a large undertaking with many facets, many questions to be answered, and many decisions to be made,” read the letter. “But step by step we are moving forward.”