Neumann University and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia officially signed a purchase agreement on June 30 to formalize the sale of several historic properties and contiguous land to the university.
Under the agreement, Neumann, at what both parties described as fair market value, will acquire the Our Lady of Angels Motherhouse Convent owned by the Sisters of St. Francis. The convent, built in late 1800s, is considered one of the most recognized, historic, and beloved buildings in the Aston area.
The transaction also includes the purchase of St. Elizabeth House, a two-story residential facility and office building, two residential homes, and nearly 63 acres of land.
The land acquisition includes sacred spaces―most notably Our Lady of Angels Cemetery―and iconic statues and symbols. The university has vowed to preserve these spaces, statues, and symbols in keeping with its long-time commitment to the Catholic, Franciscan intellectual tradition and Neumann’s ongoing partnership with the Sisters of St. Francis.
The sale positions Neumann to nearly double its campus footprint to accommodate future growth and enhance all aspects of its mission.
The university’s ambitious new master plan calls for the transformation of its campus over a 15-year period. Highlights of the buildout will include a welcoming entryway and lively pedestrian-only zone at the heart of campus. Plans also call for a new student center, new ice rink, an events center, and new student residences.
As many as 60 students are expected to move into one wing of the convent during the 2021-22 academic year, with the total reaching 120 within three years.
“This acquisition works on so many levels,” said Neumann President Chris Domes. “This is a great win-win, and the sisters feel the same way. It positions us to strengthen the residential experience for our students and supports our desire for expanded extracurricular programs and athletics.”
“Equally important,” Domes noted, “it preserves and extends the university’s commitment to a faith-based Catholic, Franciscan education and our ongoing partnership with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The motherhouse, which includes Our Lady of Angels Chapel, and the sacred spaces are integral to our mission and identity.”
The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a congregation of Catholic women who commit their lives to God and in service to others, see the sale as an opportunity to continue their mission to serve “the needs of others, especially the economically poor, the marginal, and the oppressed,” without the burden of maintaining properties and land.
At their height in 1958, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia numbered 1,600 sisters working in grade schools and high schools, hospitals and centers of nursing, and in social services. The congregation now includes about 360 sisters in 19 states, Ireland, and Africa, with a median age of 82. Approximately 35 sisters expect to maintain residence in the convent.
“Though bittersweet in many ways, this transaction allows us to focus solely on our mission and ministries,” said Sr. Kathy Dougherty, outgoing congregational minister for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. “Frankly, we’ve reached a point at which we no longer needed or could justify owning these facilities and this land.”
“Our sisters,” she added, “did not join this community because of a building or a parcel of land. They came to serve. Moving forward, we wanted to make sure that we could sustain our mission and support the ministries we have established over the years.”
“Neumann,” Dougherty said, “is the perfect fit to carry our legacy forward. We are thrilled about that. It’s a true blessing.”
The closing on the transaction is expected to be as soon as August 30.
As part of the agreement, the acquisition of property will take place incrementally over time. The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia will lease space in the convent for resident Sisters and offices through at least 2030. The Sisters of St. Francis will maintain ownership of Assisi House, Red Hill Farm, Clare House, and the Hermitages.