After nearly 70 years as a place of contemplation, the former Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary along Lititz Pike is about to be transformed into a center of education.
Three months after the Dominican nuns moved to Corpus Christi Monastery in the Bronx, CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health reached an agreement to sell their former home, which it hopes to turn into a private K-12 school for nearly 300 students.
The Lancaster-based nonprofit Department of Health’s $10.5 million plan would maintain the chapel for the public, keep the buildings’ exterior intact and renovate the main building’s interior for classrooms. A barn on the 5 acre property would be converted into a gym.
Tuition at the school would be set at 10% of household income, a funding model intended to make it open to students of all income levels, said Phil Goropoulos, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Children’s Health.
“It’s supposed to be a small community. It’s very similar to what the sisters had,” Goropoulos said of the school he hopes to open in the fall of 2023.
Although subject to certain zoning approvals, turning the monastery into a private school would end years of uncertainty over the fate of a religious monument that housed a declining community. Manheim Township Monastery was built to house nearly 40 nuns, but in the end only four lived in the 35,000 square foot building just north of Route 30.
The monastery operated independently despite being part of the 11-member North American Association of Dominican Monasteries. The decision to sell was made by the sisters themselves, who approved it unanimously.
“Isn’t it amazing?” said Sister Mary Veronica, who joined the monastery in 1960, five years after construction was completed. “We were praying to St. Joseph because in the church it is the year of St. Joseph, and here it turned out to be CHI St. Joseph.”
Recalling the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as patron of the universal Church, Pope Francis declared December 2020 a “Year of Saint Joseph”, which began on December 8, 2020 and ends today.
For several years the monastery had been quietly offered for sale, a veiled process that culminated last winter in a sale agreement with a buyer who planned to build a bar in the chapel and operate the rest as a center for detox. This plan was scuttled due to property zoning restrictions and expected opposition from neighbors.
This summer, the nuns went public with their intention to sell the monastery before moving to the Bronx, a move that was highlighted in a Sept. 4 front-page story in LNP.
Marilyn Berger, the estate agent who handles sales inquiries for the nuns, said the advertisement had generated “tremendous interest”.
Berger said he’s heard of people wanting to set up a convenience store, a mall or a housing estate. Someone else imagined putting a car wash on the site, but Berger said the school’s plan seemed like an ideal reuse.
Since it seemed like an ideal location, Goropoulos said the LNP’s story about selling the monastery has accelerated his organization’s interest in bolstering its early childhood education programs by adding a K-12 school. . After arranging a visit, Goropoulos said it became clear the monastery could house the school they had planned, and a sale agreement was reached for $3.5 million, the asking price by the property.
Proceeds from a sale would be used to support nuns who had been part of the Lancaster community, with any supplements being distributed to other Dominican monasteries located in the United States or other parts of the world.
The sale agreement is subject to obtaining the necessary zoning approvals. The monastery property is in an R-2 residential zone where a school can operate with a “special exception”. A zoning application has been submitted for the January 4, 2022 Manheim Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting, the agenda of which will be finalized next week. The school’s traffic plan will be one of the elements to be considered.
The monastery’s close neighbors got a glimpse of the circulation plan during a meeting last month at the monastery chapel organized by CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health. The plan creates a new entrance on Hess Boulevard through a parcel the monastery owns at the corner of that road and Lititz Pike.
Fred Tugend, who lives just behind the monastery building and received a flyer about the Nov. 17 meeting, said the 50 or so people who attended were generally supportive of the school project. Still, like him, many wondered how traffic would be routed through the area since some motorists are now taking residential streets to avoid traffic jams on Lititz Pike.
“I guess the school is pretty good,” Tugend said. “I think it’s a lot better than a nightclub there, to put it that way.”
A small cemetery on the property will still be moved. So far, four of the 24 graves have been moved to the new St. Joseph Roman Catholic Cemetery along Charles Road in Lancaster Township. Other moves have been delayed until a court can approve those for which there are no next of kin, said Charles “Chip” Snyder of Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory, which oversees exhumations. .
Create a fair school
CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health traces its history in Lancaster back to the Sisters of St. Francis, who opened St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1883. The 2000 sale of Lancaster City Hospital on College Avenue generated funds for the Catholic Health Initiatives, a papal mission. of the Catholic Church. Catholic Health Initiatives is now part of CommonSpirit Health, a Catholic health system that operates more than 140 hospitals and 1,000 care sites in 21 states.
The former St. Joseph’s Hospital was owned by UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster when it closed in February 2019. Plans are underway to redevelop it into living quarters.
CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health focused much of its efforts on Columbia, where it oversaw the redevelopment of the Columbia Market House and built the St. John Neumann School for Children and Families, a day care center that serves families independently their ability to pay. Having a K-12 school was a logical extension of this education-focused daycare, Goropoulos said.
The goal of the yet-to-be-named school in the former monastery is to create a relationship-based and developmentally appropriate education system, a philosophy exemplified by the fact that tuition is determined by the household income, Goropoulos said.
“It makes sure every person can come in,” he said. “It’s not about awarding scholarships or having a fixed amount available for scholarships; it’s about creating this fair system that was really important to us.
There will be no minimum amount a student will pay, although Goropoulos said there will be a tuition cap yet to be determined for the school which he says will operate with 33 faculty and staff. staff.
The school also won’t field competitive sports teams, an approach that’s another aspect of building community, not a “competitive culture,” Goropoulos said. This approach is consistent with the fact that there is not enough space for traditional sports fields on the monastery property.
While Goropoulos hopes Catholic Mass can continue to be offered in the public chapel, the school itself will not be religious.
“It is not a Catholic school and there will be no religious instruction in the curriculum, (but) there will be elements of our belief in terms of being a champion for the common good, which are related to Catholic roots,” he said.