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Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God sell 33-acre Whitehall home

Tom Fontaine
| Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, 11:55 a.m.
The Saint Francis Convent at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property. The sisters said Tuesday they have sold their “motherhouse property” to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
The Saint Francis Convent at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property. The sisters said Tuesday they have sold their “motherhouse property” to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
The St. Francis Convent on the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property dates to 1925 as evidenced by its cornerstone. The sisters announced Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, that they  sold their motherhouse property to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
The St. Francis Convent on the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property dates to 1925 as evidenced by its cornerstone. The sisters announced Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, that they sold their motherhouse property to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
The Saint Francis Convent at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property. The sisters said Tuesday they have sold their “motherhouse property” to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
The Saint Francis Convent at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property. The sisters said Tuesday they have sold their “motherhouse property” to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
Leaves change colors on the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property. The sisters said Tuesday they have sold their “motherhouse property” to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Leaves change colors on the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God property. The sisters said Tuesday they have sold their “motherhouse property” to Mt. Lebanon-based Penn Cove Group Capital.

With an aging, rapidly dwindling population, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God said Tuesday they sold their 33-acre Whitehall property to a developer.

The Sisters of St. Francis are the latest order of Catholic women to look to property sales and mergers. Nationally, the number of sisters in all orders fell from more than 180,000 in the mid-1960s to fewer than 50,000 today.

About 950 women remain in Catholic orders locally, about 1 percent of whom are 40 or younger, said Sister Geraldine Wodarczyk, the Pittsburgh Diocese's Delegate for Religious.

“Teaching, nursing and secretarial work were fields open to women (in the mid-1960s),” she said. “Now career choices have increased. ... The ability to combine an active church ministry with a career and living independently or having a family has become very appealing.”

The Sisters of St. Francis didn't disclose how much money they are receiving for their motherhouse property.

Penn Cove Group Capital of Mt. Lebanon, which did not return messages, hasn't disclosed what it will do with the property, but the sisters will maintain a presence there. The sisters' Franciscan Child Day Care Center will remain in the St. Francis Academy building, and five sisters will continue to live in two of the property's eight townhomes. Offices for the Pittsburgh Diocese's Vicariate 2 will remain.

“We have been blessed to be on Mt. Providence for 93 years. … Now we are being called to journey forward to new spaces and places,” General Minister Sister Joanne Brazinski said.

Several sisters recently relocated to Castle Shannon, South Park and Jefferson Hills. About a dozen sisters in need of assisted living and personal care services moved to Presbyterian SeniorCare in Oakmont.

Robyn N. Moeller, Sisters of St. Francis' development director, said the moves provide sisters with new opportunities to serve.

Sisters who moved to a South Park rectory have become involved in prayer groups and other activities in the community.

In Oakmont, sisters are ministering to Catholic and non-Catholic residents and staff members.

“Our sisters never really retire,” Moeller said.

Founded in 1922, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God is an international congregation of Catholic women with 29 sisters in the United States, all but two of whom are in Western Pennsylvania. In 1963, the Sisters of St. Francis had 244 members in the United States, including women who had not yet taken their final vows, Moeller said.

Of the Sisters of St. Francis members nationwide today, half are at least 80 years old — one recently turned 100, seven are in their 90s and six in their 80s. The youngest member is in her early 60s.

In response to declining numbers elsewhere, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity in McCandless merged seven years ago with the Kentucky-based Sisters of Charity in Nazareth, while the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth last year sold their former motherhouse in Ross. It has been converted into senior housing. The Benedictine Sisters sold their motherhouse in Ross more than three years ago and moved into a smaller space in Richland.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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