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Marianites to sell historic property, keep ministry

 
Facing diminished numbers and looking to chart a course for their future ministry, the Marianites of Holy Cross have decided to sell their square block of property in Bywater that houses their congregational center and the former Academy of the Holy Angels school building, which now serves as affordable senior housing, the community announced Nov. 9.

Although no sales price has been established for the property, Marianite Sister Ann Lacour, congregational leader, said all but one of the buildings on the site bounded by St. Claude Avenue and Gallier, North Rampart and Congress streets are on the National Register of Historic Places, which means that while they can be renovated for different uses, they must be preserved.
 
“There’s no high-rise going up,” Sister Ann said.
 
Sister Ann said the groundwork for the decision came in 2012 at the Marianites’ general chapter in which the sisters approved a plan to examine a “Preferred Future” for the congregation, which has 155 sisters worldwide, including about 60 who serve in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and 40 who serve in the Diocese of Lafayette.
 
“This is a decision that’s made with great heartache, but at the same time, it’s a decision that says this (property) is too big for us at this point in time,” Sister Ann said. “Our hope is that we will continue to do good things for God’s people as we let go of this. That is at the heart of all this – that our legacy will always be, ‘We were there to take care of God’s people.’”
 
Sister Ann said the 2012 general chapter – a gathering of all Marianite sisters – gave direction for their “Preferred Future.”
 
“We want to make choices on our future so that choices aren’t made for us,” she said. “One of the recommendations is that we sell some of our property. It’s our hope to sell the property at Holy Angels by 2017.”
 
While the property has been placed for sale, Sister Ann said, no potential buyer has been identified.
 
The Marianites came to the Archdiocese of New Orleans in April 1848 to care for the children at St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum in downtown New Orleans.
 
A short time later, they bought their current property – “from St. Claude Avenue to the river,” Sister Ann said – for $250. They began construction of the Academy of the Holy Angels in 1854 when Archbishop Antoine Blanc asked the Marianites to undertake the academic instruction of young women in downtown New Orleans.
 
The Civil War was raging when the cornerstone for the academy was blessed and the foundation laid, and the school was dedicated in 1865. Holy Angels functioned at various times as a boarding school, provincial house, summer school for sisters and as a college, but it always was a high school for girls.
 
Holy Angels closed in 1992, and the building, with a crow’s nest that has sweeping views of the French Quarter and the river, was converted into affordable senior housing, operated by the Willwoods Community.
 
Currently, 15 Marianite sisters live in the residential apartments inside the congregational center, and 33 seniors live in the apartments converted from the former school. Sister Ann said it may take many months and even years to complete the sale.
 
“Anything we sign, we will have a year to negotiate with Willwoods and with the developer,” Sister Ann said. “After we sign the contract, it will take us about 12 to 18 months to clear the property. With 48 people living on the property, it’s going to take a little time.”
 
In addition to the congregational center and the senior apartments, the property also is home to a large chapel, a cafeteria, a concert hall and an additional convent building, named St. Joseph, which is where 12 senior Marianite sisters are in assisted living.
 
The future plan also calls for:
 
➤ “Continuing to journey” with the Most Holy Sacrament Sisters in reaching a “covenant agreement that will bind them with us as they move toward completion.”
 
➤ Fulfilling through 2017 a contract with the Diocese of Kaya in Burkina Faso to assist in establishing Holy Family Parish there, and working with the local bishop to develop a diocesan community of sisters.
 
➤ Examining ways to ensure financial stability for ministries, operations and retirement.
 
➤ Assessing all properties with the goal of selling by 2017 those “which no longer enhance ministry.”
 Among the institutions “sponsored” by the Marianites are Our Lady of Holy Cross College and Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center in New Orleans.
 
As for Our Lady of Holy Cross College, which moved to the Westbank in 1960, Sister Ann said the Marianites are “investigating our sponsorship” of the school.
 
“Right now we own and sponsor the college,” she said. “We’re looking at what are the different options of sponsorship in the future as our numbers change and as our ages get a little older.”
 
Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center was begun as a collaboration of 16 religious communities to provide a facility where their aging members could be cared for. Of the original 16 communities, there are six now serving as corporate members of the facility.
 
“We’re looking at everything that we sponsor and how we can remain viable in the future,” Sister Ann said.
 
Members of the Preferred Future task force are the four members of the Marianites Leadership Team – Sister Ann and Sisters Stephanie Brignac, Chris Perrier and Marie Noel – and four other Marianites, Sisters Keri Burke, Marjorie Hebert, Rochelle Perrier and Regina White. 
 
“No decisions have been made around our institutions,” Sister Ann said. “We are in the study, prayer and reflection stage.”
 
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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