Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Maplewood / Neighbors Object to Battered Woman's Shelter at Benedictine Monastery Site

Neighbors of a Maplewood monastery are fighting a plan to turn the building into a shelter for battered women.

The Sisters of St. Benedictine of St. Paul's Monastery plan to move into a smaller monastery to be built on their 34-acre campus on Larpenteur Avenue to fit their dwindling numbers. The current building would be sold and converted into a 64-bed homeless shelter. In addition, 90 units of affordable housing would be built adjacent to the monastery. "This is what God is calling them to do," says Jean Hartman, the monastery's director of finance and administration.

A different calling - "not in my neighborhood" - has motivated others. Carrie and John Hansen, who live 1½ miles by car from the monastery, say the plan would subject the neighborhood to more traffic, potential crime and reduced property values.

The sisters also will continue running their child-care center, a Benedictine retreat and a program called Ministry of Mothers Sharing, along with outreach and teaching programs outside the monastery.

There were 244 sisters at their mansion on St. Paul's Summit Avenue in 1965, when the order's growth spurred the move to Maplewood. St. Paul architect Val Michelson built a six-story main residential hall, a central entry with administrative offices and another wing with a chapel, dining rooms and a large kitchen beneath a dramatic folded concrete roof. But in the decades since, the number of sisters has dropped to 58 - their median age is 76 - and while their vow of poverty funnels every dime they earn back into the monastery, too few of them are working to bring in the kind of money it takes to maintain the building.

"They're not planning for their demise. They're planning for their life," Hartman says.

Those plans don't consider the neighborhood, says Hansen, the block captain for her neighborhood crime watch and the mother of three children, ages 11 to 15.

"We're a neighborhood full of families and a group of people who have an identity with the area we live, and the sisters don't seem to have the same perspective," she says. "They're very focused on the low-income housing and the shelter - both doing wonderful things - but our concern is that, as a neighborhood, this doesn't fit in well." [...snip] Pioneer Press

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