Sisters host celebration to say goodbye to motherhouse

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As they walked in the echoing corridors of the nearly century-old, four-story Mount Nazareth Center, Sisters Geraldine Wodarczyk and Kathleen Matuszewski recalled days when their numbers were larger and their surroundings a lot busier.

One room, now storing crafts and other items, was once a hive of activity for young novices, where they sewed, read and wrote letters. Another room once reverberated with the typing practiced by girls at a long-closed high school that once operated at the site in Ross.

"This was our home for so many, many years," Sister Matuszewski said.

"We probably can tell you every nook and cranny of the building, both from a cleaning perspective and a remodeling perspective," added Sister Wodarczyk.

A long chapter of the sisters' presence at Mount Nazareth is coming to end, however.

The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, their numbers aging and shrinking, are selling the historic motherhouse to Presbyterian SeniorCare. Only six of the sisters still live at the home that once housed about 100 nuns, novices and others.

The nonprofit Presbyterian SeniorCare plans to put in 42 apartments for seniors to live independently and will acquire about 10 of the 30 or so acres remaining on the site on Bellevue Road.

But the sisters will still maintain a presence on the property. Their long-running preschool program, Mount Nazareth Learning Center, will continue its operations. So will the Holy Family Manor personal-care home. The sisters also plan to build a new, smaller residence for sisters to live on-site.

To bring some closure to their long history at the motherhouse, the sisters will host a celebration Saturday, inviting anyone who ever studied, lived or had other connections to the home.

The events will include an open house beginning at 1 p.m., when people can tour the building and share memories, and a liturgy in the historic chapel.

Like many Roman Catholic religious orders, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth have seen their ranks declining precipitously in recent decades, although they do have a handful of newcomers at their novitiate in Chicago and in overseas branches.

Sister Wodarczyk and Sister Matuszewski, who manage the building, have been busy cleaning library shelves and preparing furniture and artifacts for sale or donation.

As painful as it is to part with memories, Sister Wodarczyk said, change is necessary.

"It's a whole different living of poverty," Sister Wodarczyk said. "Our vows of poverty at one time were more personal, but this is really letting go of history."

Yet at the same time, "it's relinquishing it in the service of families," she said.

"We're just of the belief that the Holy Spirit is doing something very different in the church," Sister Wodarczyk added. "We just have to be responsive to that. As people feel called to this lifestyle, they'll come."

Peter Smith:, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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