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  • Aug
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Sisters of St. Joseph agree to sell Mont Marie property

Posted By August 7, 2014 | 12:52 pm | Lead Story #2

By Father Paul J. Tougas
CFP correspondent

Sister Maxyne D. Schneider, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, has announced the signing of a purchase and sale agreement for their 52-acre Mont Marie campus in Holyoke. Completion of the sale, which includes the Mont Marie Health Care Center, is expected this fall.
According to a press release from the sisters, Tryko Partners, a third-generation nursing home operator with faith-based roots and a strong presence in the Massachusetts skilled nursing market, intends to acquire the 84-bed Mont Marie Health Care Center. The firm also intends to assume the management of the property’s Mont Marie Senior Residence and St. Joseph Residence, which together house 80 age-restricted HUD rental units.
The sale comes after more than two years of research led by professional consultants, focused on solutions to alleviate severe financial shortfalls facing the 235-member SSJ Springfield congregation, according to Sister Maxyne. It was determined that the Mont Marie complex was too large and too expensive to maintain.
A $300,000 grant from the National Religious Retirement Office, an arm of the United States  Conference of Catholic Bishops, enabled the community to hire the consultants. The advisers told them that their cash assets would be exhausted in a few years. Sister Maxyne says she remembers the date well: It was April 18, 2012.
“We learned of our dire straits from our financial consultants on that day. There were signs of difficulty earlier and our predecessors in leadership alerted us to them,” she said.
In a recent telephone interview, Sister Maxyne said that over the years some factors stand out as contributing to the situation including: years of low wages for the sisters; major education costs as the sisters needed higher education to expand their teaching ministries. In addition certain factors were underestimated in financial forecasting. Religious orders were too optimistic in their understanding of how long sisters could continue to work and bring in a salary. Secondly, Orders were maintaining large properties for today’s smaller communities with large maintenance budgets still required.
“We are at the beginning of what we expect to be a long and fruitful relationship with Tryko Partners,” Sister Maxyne said.
Tryko is a New Jersey based company that operates eight other facilities in Massachusetts, including Danvers, Needham, Rockland, Fitchburg, Lancaster, and Webster.
In a press release, Tryko’s  director of acquisitions, Uri Kahanow, noted that the rich history of the Mont Marie campus was among the many attributes that drew his firm. “This is a beautiful property that holds an important position in the larger community,” he said. “We have a deep appreciation of its faith-based population, which will continue to contribute to its strength and character.”
“We are very much looking forward to working with the sisters as we incorporate the Tryko brand at Mont Marie,” said Norman Rokeach, director of nursing home operations for Marquis Health Services, Tryko’s in-house healthcare division.
Some 70 sisters will continue to live at the Mont in nursing home care and some may live there in the future as the new buyer develops housing for seniors, for which the sisters would be eligible.
The sisters will continue to use the chapel and the cemetery through a lease agreement.
Already, more than 30 sisters have moved from the Mont to facilities of religious communities in Holyoke, Milton, and Framingham, Sister Maxyne noted.
Similar downsizing efforts have been seen by other religious communities with diminishing members and large, older buildings.
The Sisters of Mercy of Worcester joined with a Mercy community in New York and the motherhouse on Barry Road was subsequently sold to become The Willows at Worcester.  Several sisters continue to live there in the health care center. There are 25 Sisters of Mercy in Worcester.
The Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin last month signed an agreement with Heywood Healthcare in Gardner to sell its 21-acre property on North Main Street in Petersham. A 122-room building there was the sisters’ residence and wellness center. Sisters in need of care live with the Sisters of St. Anne in their residence in Marlborough.
Sister Maxyne says the sale of Mont Marie will “make the Congregation far more secure and it will greatly ease the financial situation. The greater relief will be the removal of the expense of maintaining the property which had become so much larger than we needed.”
There will continue to be financial stress and this will be addressed with some public fund-raising “but we didn’t want to go to the public until we had done everything we could possibly do to help ourselves,” she said.
A capital campaign is planned for early next year to be conducted in the dioceses where these sisters have served which will include Springfield, Worcester and Fall River all in Massachusetts, Providence, R.I.,  and Rutland, Vt.

Sister finds welcoming community after move

By Father Paul J. Tougas
CFP Correspondent

“I’m in heaven,” says Sister Grace.
Sister Grace Belforti is one of six Sisters of St. Joseph, Springfield who have left Mont Marie in Holyoke and now live at Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham, a facility of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.
Sister Grace is very happy about the move and is more than satisfied with the welcome the sisters received. She says that welcoming is repeated every day.
She admits that it was not easy to accept the shocking information that they were going to lose Mont Marie.         “I never thought it would come to this. I’ve shed my tears,” she said.
Sister Grace looks upon her new location as another assignment.
“I’ve always been happy in my missions and here I’m in heaven,” she said.
The happy transition has taken the sting out of the community’s financial predicament, she said.
In her 67 years of religious life, Sister Grace spent many years teaching in Worcester at St. Stephen’s School and Sacred Heart Academy and at St. Mary School in Medford. She spent 26 years at Cathedral High School in Springfield.
“I have visitors from my community almost every day and I certainly don’t feel isolated,” she said. “I’m closer to my family than I was in Holyoke.”
Her sense of spirituality and resignation comes readily across as she accepts this transition as another mission in her life. Yet the pain is there if one wants to find it and focus on it.
“I never thought it would come to this,” she repeated.
When asked if these measures, including a planned capital fund drive for next year, will solve their problems, Sister Maxyne D. Schneider, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, answered, “Yes, all of this should solve our problems” and allow us to care for all of our retired sisters.