Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 16, No. 1
Everything Old is New Again: Transforming a Mother House
Nestled on a quiet hillside overlooking the Connecticut River sits Providence Place, an independent living retirement community sponsored by the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke, Massachusetts. The facility and accompanying grounds were once the site of the congregation’s Mother House. Today, lay residents and retired sisters alike enjoy the lovely apartments and the caring, friendly atmosphere found at Providence Place.
In 1993, the Sisters of Providence’s newly elected executive board began a visioning process to consider the future needs of their institute. Specifically, they were concerned about the best use of the Mother House and the large, Byzantine style chapel located in its center. They realized that both were becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and that the Mother House was actually too large for their current needs.
In determining the best future for the Mother House, the three main goals were: 1) to continue to provide a home and to care for the sisters, 2) to preserve the exquisite chapel, and 3) to leave a legacy to the people the congregation had served for nearly 130 years. A committee was established to address these objectives, and ultimately proposed renovating the Mother House into a retirement community for independent seniors. This option would not only provide for their retired sisters, but it would also offer a chance to fill a new niche. While other Sisters of Providence facilities served either the poor and needy or those of substantial means, this facility would be geared towards middle income seniors. The mission would be helping individuals who were ineligible for government subsidies obtain affordable, quality housing.
At the community’s mid-term assembly in 1995, the plans to renovate the Mother House received approval from the entire congregation. Consulting architects from North Carolina were then brought in and, after spending several days with the sisters, determined it would be possible to transform the structure into apartments.
Perhaps the most difficult and emotional aspect of the project was relocating the congregational skilled nursing unit. Fortunately, the sisters were able to arrange to move their Infirmary to the third floor of Providence Hospital, only a quarter of a mile away and a member of the Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS).
Noella Neill, Providence Place resident
The actual renovation began in January 1998. Like any renovation, the construction process was challenging. The sisters endured bouts without water and electricity and endless amounts of dust. When the project was completed, however, the conversion was exactly what they had hoped. Despite the tremendous changes, they were able to maintain the external beauty and tranquility of the structure. They were also able to transform the interior into a tastefully decorated yet welcoming space, accented by muted tones of blue, gold and green.
Providence Place opened in 1999. The sisters moved into their quarters in April, and the first lay residents arrived in May. A grand opening was held in November. The facility has 120 units and offers studio, one and two bedroom apartments, each with a full kitchen, private bath, and storage space.
Now in its fifth year, Providence Place supplies a host of amenities. Two immaculately maintained cloister gardens and the beautiful chapel provide breathtaking space for prayer and private reflection. Other amenities include basic cable, an outdoor swimming pool, a library, an exercise room, and a hair salon. Utilities, excluding telephone service, are part of the rent.
A primary daily meal, served in the facility’s restaurant style dining room, is also provided. Specialities of the house include Grilled Swordfish with Tomato Salsa and Chocolate Decadence Cake with Raspberry Sauce. For breakfast, residents may choose to dine in their own apartments or to enjoy the plentiful continental-style breakfast found in the coffee shop.
Providence Place offers a host of daily activities and programs for residents to enjoy. Director of Resident Programs, Sister Margaret McCleary, SP, creates a daily schedule designed to satisfy a wide range of interests and needs. On any given day, residents, whether they be lay or religious, might take advantage of a guest speaker, a Shakespeare workshop or an ongoing writing program. Every week, group transportation is provided for grocery shopping, banking and other errands. There are also outings to the movies and local theaters, as well as trips to places such as Fenway Park. And a concert series is held in the chapel each month.
While the facility is designed to assist seniors in maintaining their independence, residents may contract with outside health care providers if the need arises. Residents receive priority access to services and programs offered by Sisters of Providence Health System. They are also free to utilize other providers designated by their insurance.
Currently, forty-two sisters reside at Providence Place. Although all are retirement age, some continue in active ministry. Others have discovered a new ministry through their lives at Providence Place. Building community is second nature to the sisters. They easily interact with residents, not only through such traditional activities as daily mass or holy hours, but also through art classes, computer lessons, card games and more. And, with the exception of a few rogue Yankee fans, everyone joins together in cheering on the Red Sox!
The third and fourth floors on the east side of the building are reserved solely for the sisters’ use. The design of these apartments differs slightly from the other units in that all are arranged with two bedrooms, a small sitting room and a full bath. The apartments do not have kitchens. Instead, sisters share their meals in the main dining area. To enhance the sense of community, each floor has a kitchenette with a stove, microwave and refrigerator, and a lounge with a TV/VCR, couches and a large table and chairs.
Today, Providence Place continues to thrive and maintains a steady waiting list of interested applicants. Sister Joan Mullen, SP, president of the congregation, notes, “Our fondest dreams have been realized. Our goal was not just to build apartments, but to offer residents and our retired sisters a real sense of community. Providence Place does that and so much more.”
Please send changes in addresses, phone, e-mail, or congregational leadership to NRRO c/o Jean Smith so that we may keep our records and mailing lists up-to-date.
Sometimes the seemingly smallest gifts are the most humbling. In December, I received a note from a mother in Toledo, Ohio. Her eight year old son had decided to donate his December allowance to the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR). I was and continue to be deeply touched by his generosity. I can only imagine, given his age and the shifting roles of religious in the United States, that his contact with nuns, priests and brothers has been limited at best. Yet he recognized the need of our retired religious and, in the true Christmas spirit, gave from the heart. During a season when many children his age were probably focused on Santa, reindeer, and, above all, presents, this young fellow was focused on helping others.
I am exceedingly grateful for all the generosity shown to the RFR. And I am particularly moved by donors who recognize the sacrifice and service of our retired religious, and then make a sacrifice of their own. Their gifts, in ones, fives, and tens, often come from budgets that are already strained; yet they add up to a loving donation of gratitude. Over the years, these “widow’s mites,” offered with the love and hope of the Christmas season, have combined to help make the RFR the most successful campaign conducted by the church in the United States. More importantly, they have helped support and care for men and women who selflessly and joyfully offered their lives to serve God and others.
In 2 Corinthians, we learn of the great importance of giving without reservation. “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7.) For all those who graciously and generously give of themselves to support the RFR, we say, “Thanks be to God.”
May our loving God bless you.
Sister Andrée Fries
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Project Director for Retirement Services
If you would like to make a bequest or restricted gift to the National Religious Retirement Office, the following information should be used:
To the United States Catholic Conference Incorporated, for the exclusive purpose of assisting Roman Catholic religious orders in the United States to provide for the retirement needs of their elderly members.
Best Practices Presentation at NATRI
Please mark your calendars and plan to join us Friday, November 12th, for NRRO’s presentation at the National Association of Treasurers of Religious Institutes (NATRI) annual conference in Arlington, Virginia. Our half day seminar will focus on ways of providing quality care for senior members while controlling costs.
The NRRO Best Practices research reveals that, “...one of the most important aspects in providing quality care is the way members are treated by those who care for them. The importance of good employees that demonstrate a high level of care cannot be overstated.”1 Most religious institutes face the challenge of attracting and retaining a qualified staff to assist with the care of senior members. Compensation for these employees is a major cost factor.
The workshop will take an in-depth look at quality of care and cost relationships. Mr. William L. Keane, Director of Dementia Services for the Mather Institute on Aging, will be the keynote speaker. He will explain how elements that have the greatest impact on quality of life for elders can also be cost effective. A dynamic and engaging speaker who is passionate about improving the quality of life for today’s seniors, Mr. Keane will stretch your thinking and offer practical insights into the needs and wants of the elderly. The workshop will include topics of interest to religious institute treasurers, leaders, and retirement directors. We hope to see you there!
Points of Interest
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
Fraud Related to New Medicare Rx Cards Reported
According to a February 16th article in the New York Times, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have received reports of people going door to door to distribute fraudulent Medicare prescription drug cards and to collect personal information from seniors. Medicare enrollment is scheduled to begin in May. Seniors should be aware of this scheme and should not give out their personal identifying information.
NCOA Week Bulletin, 2/18/2004
CARS Sponsors Gerontological Pastoral Care Institute
The Center for Aging, Religion, and Spirituality (CARS) is sponsoring a Gerontological Pastoral Care Institute. This two-year program is designed to provide chaplains, pastors, and laity a certificate for ministering to older adults. It includes two summer sessions of classroom instruction in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a supervised project in students’ communities. Dates are July 10-18, 2004, and July 16-24, 2005. For more information see: www.aging-religion-spirituality.com
NCOA Week Bulletin, 2/23/04
(Note: Upon completion of the two sessions and the project, each student is presented with a certificate issued jointly by the Association of Professional Chaplains, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and CARS.)
Update from the Nun Study
Once again, we are made aware of the marvelous ministry that religious offer by aging and dying well. David Snowdon, Ph.D., Director of the Nun Study, the research project on Alzheimer’s Disease with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, wrote in his February 2004 newsletter, “Last year, I experienced the loss of my 91-year-old father, Hank Snowdon. Fortunately, the sisters have taught me many lessons about death and dying, which helped me guide my family through Dad’s final passage.”
Dr. Snowdon also writes that he has “...started discussions with sisters and scientists on plans to initiate a new generation of scientific investigation. For a variety of reasons, I have chosen to study the health and consciousness-changing properties of the age-old religious practice of fasting. For over two thousand years, every major religion has used fasting as a means of elevating consciousness. Furthermore, an impressive body of scientific findings on animals indicates that fasting has profound favorable biochemical effects on the brain. For this line of inquiry, I plan to enlarge our study population to include sisters from a variety of other religious congregations who differ on the type and frequency of regular (at least one day per week) fasting. Regular fasting may prove to be a potent strategy to slow biologic aging, control age-related diseases, and assist in reducing and maintaining weight loss.”
“Overall, this is an exciting time in research on aging. Through the generosity of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and hopefully other religious congregations in the future, the Nun Study will continue to provide a unique perspective to the study of aging, health, and longevity.
Nun Study Newsletter–February 2004
|“Think Tanks” for Best Practices Implementation, Baltimore, MD||April 12-16, 2004|
|Supplemental Grant applications due (December cycle)||April 15, 2004|
|Financial Workshop for small religious institutes, Washington DC||May 5-8, 2004|
|Grant Review Board Meeting||May 10, 2004|
|Grant awards distributed||June 2004|
|NATRI Orientation to Financial Management of Religious Institutes, Holyoke, MA||June 7-11, 2004|
|LCWR/CMSM Joint Assembly, Fort Worth, TX||August 19-23, 2004|
|NCDC Conference, Orlando, FL||September 16-19, 2004|
|NRRO/NATRI Consultant In-Service, Detroit, MI||September 23-26, 2004|
|Special Assistance Grant Applications due (December Cycle)||September 30, 2004|
|Supplemental Grant Applications due (June Cycle)||October 15, 2004|
|CRLM Meeting, Washington, DC||November 12, 2004|
|USCCB General Meeting, Washington, DC||November 15-18, 2004|
|Special Assistance & Supplemental Grants awarded||December, 2004|
|RFR National Collection||December 11-12, 2004|
1 Planning for Retirement and Mission: A Best Practices Study. Final Report for the Commission on Religious Life and Ministry, August 2003. Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, page 376.