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Sisters focus on future to continue serving community

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
The majestic chapel at Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God in Whitehall. File photo
Farm equipment from previous owners sits behind senior townhouses on the property of Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God. File photo
Sisters of St. Francis property. File photo

A haven — filled with grassy thoroughfares and flowering pear trees in the summer and snow-covered crests in winter — has been the home of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God for more than 90 years.

As they plan for the future, the sisters want to retain the tranquil setting on the 33-acre site on the border of Whitehall Borough. They also are drafting plans that will meet the needs of the community, likely with the creation of affordable senior housing, program space and a palliative care clinic and life transition center for caregiver support and bereavement services.

“Our vision is to create a unique and integrated model of care and services to serve seniors and the broader community, in addition to continuing the spiritual and child care services currently available on our Whitehall campus,” Sister Joanne Brazinski, OSF, who is the General Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God, said in a statement on Monday.

For more than a year, the Sisters — with the help of community and business leaders, and a market study — have been crafting a plan for the property, said Robyn Gallentine-Moeller of the Sisters' development and communications office. Based on feedback, there is a need for senior care in the area, she said.

To this end, the Sisters have are collaborating with organizations to apply for funding next month toward construction of a senior tax credit community with the development of 40 to 60 units serving low- to moderate-income seniors on the site, Whitehall Mayor James Nowalk told council members last week.

“I really like the idea,” said Nowalk, who has been involved in meetings alongside the mayors of Castle Shannon and Bethel Park for the planning of the property's future.

“The thoughts of the Sisters turning it over to some developer – it loses its history and character of what it's been. This is very much along the lines of how the Sisters have used the property.”

Nearly 45 of the 98 Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God worldwide, a congregation of women religious, live on the Whitehall campus, Gallentine-Moeller said. Fourteen of the 45 Sisters in the United States are 90 years or older.

With many of the Sisters getting old, and less woman joining the religious field, leaders at the Whitehall campus have said that they must formulate a plan for the future of the property, which serves as the main center of operations for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God.

Whitehall officials received a request from the Sisters, seeking certification from the borough's code enforcement officer, Jack Sims, ensuring that their plans for the property meet conditions of the borough's zoning ordinance, Nowalk said.

The Sisters also requested a letter of support for the plans from Nowalk and borough council by Feb. 15 — when the next round of funding applications are due to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority, where the Sisters' are making application, he said.

Council members said they will draft a letter and vote on its approval at their meeting Wednesday.

This is just one of the short-range plans for the site, Nowalk said. Long-range plans also are being created.

If this project moves forward, it would either be through new construction or renovations, Moeller said.

The Sisters have collaborated with Family Hospice and Palliative Care, Community Life, Presbyterian Senior Care and Jefferson Regional Medical Center, “to further develop proposals,” Brazinski said. “We are also continuing to explore the potential for additional services to seniors and families.”

Requirements, through all of this, are that any plans must include keeping the Sisters' mission to help others and the integrity of the green space, Gallentine-Moeller said.

Whitehall officials agreed, this space is important to maintain.

“That's a great asset to this community,” Councilman Phil Lahr said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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