Saturday, January 31, 2015

Get Thee to a Nunnery

From Dave Brigham:

I find it hard to square the popular, albeit outdated image of nuns as ruler-wielding autocrats, buttoned up from head to toe in black and white, with the smiling, geriatric faces of women in soft, cotton blouses in many pleasant colors on the web site for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Still, the nuns have power.

The sisters have been contemplating for many years the sale of their former convent in Newton, Mass.

Part of a large private educational complex, the nunnery sits on property that holds significance in many ways for the history of Newton. Built in 1965, the convent sits at a 90-degree angle to the building that houses the former Aquinas College. Most recently, that building housed the Rashi School, a private Reform Jewish K-8 independent school. The property also includes a private Catholic elementary school and the Walnut Park Montessori School preschool, which are not for sale.

I believe the Sisters initially used the Montessori School mansion as a convent, before moving into the current site in the '60s.

Deeded to the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1921 by Joseph Flanagan, the property was once part of a much larger estate with important historical ties. The first permanent settler in Newton, John Jackson, once owned a large parcel of land that includes the site where the convent sits, according to the Newton Historical Commission. The Jackson family operated a candle factory here in the 19th century.

From 1862-1893 the property was owned by John C. Potter and his family, and was known as the Potter Estate.

The convent and school building combined total roughly 95,000 square feet, with the convent comprising 20,720 square feet. The convent includes 34 dormitory-style rooms, a chapel and covered parking, according to a real estate listing I dug up online. I don't believe there are any nuns living there.

The property has been on the market for several years, with the Sisters turning down dozens upon dozens of commercial and institutional developers because the owners want to keep the site as a community resource of some sort (for a great report on this process, see this Boston Globe article written by my neighbor back in March 2008).

I'll keep an eye on this property and post any updates.

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