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Last updated: Fri. Mar. 02, 2012 - 09:20 am EDT

Nuns give new life to Huntington historic site

A recently refurbished Roman Catholic landmark in Huntington will soon house new tenants – religious sisters who are moving from Ann Arbor, Mich., because they need more space.

The historic St. Felix Friary campus at 1280 Hitzfield St. will be used by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, as a residence and school for novices, Sean McBride, spokesman for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said Thursday.

About 40 sisters will be relocating, McBride said, and the facility will be blessed and rededicated Saturday after a 10 a.m. invitation-only Mass celebrated by the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, diocesan bishop.

The sisters, McBride said, will make “a significant increase” in the diocese’s number of active religious women.

There are now about 450 sisters, but most of them are retired, he said.

The sisters are a relatively new teaching order who nonetheless follow traditional practices, including wearing a full-length white habit and living according to a monastic schedule, rising at 5 a.m. daily for prayer and Mass. They were canonically established in 1997.

“This is an order that’s expanding and running out of room,” McBride says. “Their charism is they are a teaching order. They go into Catholic schools around the nation, and they are very much in demand.”

Because the sisters work nationwide, it’s unclear how many will teach in local Catholic schools, but the bishop hopes the diocese is “on the short list,” McBride said.

“This is an exciting time to have a brand-new order of teaching sisters in our diocese,” he said.

The friary will become known as the St. Felix Oratory because “no friars will be there,” McBride said.

The sisters will maintain their motherhouse in Ann Arbor in the Diocese of Lansing, he said.

The sisters work in six other states, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, California and Arizona according to their website, www.sistersofmary.org.

McBride said the friary building, which contains 62,000 square feet and sits on 29 acres, recently underwent $1 million in renovations made possible by its buyer, the Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation.

The foundation is headed by Fort Wayne Catholic businessman John V. Tippmann and named for his mother.

“They have completely modernized the kitchens, the restrooms and have really brought things up to code, up-to-date. They’ve renovated the wiring and did new paint,” McBride said.

A group involved with the renovations even traveled to an Allentown, Pa., warehouse to buy pews, statuary, an altar and other accessories from closed parishes to re-outfit the property’s three chapels, he said.

Built in 1928, the friary is best known as a residence of Solanus Casey, a Capuchin Franciscan brother who lived there in retirement from 1946 to 1956.

Casey was declared venerable in 1995 for his life of service and prayer and is a candidate for beatification, the next step toward sainthood.

The property, which left Catholic hands in 1980 when it was bought by a United Brethren in Christ congregation from Huntington, also is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a district that includes the nearby Victory Noll Center, home of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters.

During the renovations, the friary, with dozens of sleeping rooms once used by brown-robed brothers, has served as an increasingly sought-out Catholic retreat center, McBride said.

That function will continue, although the extent of the building used for that purpose will likely change, McBride said.

rsalter@jg.net


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