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Retreat center to be converted for priests

K. Aaron Van Oosterhout | Friday, November 5, 2004

If construction goes as planned, the new on-campus, independent living home for Holy Cross priests will open in January 2006.

While it remains unnamed, the home will occupy the current Fatima Retreat Center building. The center will close this coming January for a year’s worth of interior and exterior renovations.

The principal motive for shutting down the Fatima Center was a staffing problem, according to Father Tony Szakaly, assistant provincial of the Indiana Province of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

“If we don’t feel we have the people to staff [the Center] ourselves, we don’t want to continue it on our property,” Szakaly said. “We don’t have as many religious [personnel] as we would like.”

He acknowledged that the retreat ministry will diminish without the center, but many of the student retreats will continue.

“A lot of our [priests] do retreats just through their normal ministry, like [Notre Dame Encounter], Men’s Weekend, parish retreats, social justice retreats and high school retreats.”

While there may be a shortage of Holy Cross priests in active duty, there is an excess of recently retired clergy.

“Our demographic shows that we have a large bubble of priests that are reaching the 70 – 80 age plateau,” Szakaly said, adding that these priests currently find themselves in an awkward transition between the Corby Hall residence for active-duty priests and the Holy Cross House nursing home.

As the defunct Fatima Center has left the Indiana Province with an empty building, it was decided that the best use for the center would be “a quality religious house of mixed ages,” Szakaly said.

According to him, the residents of this home could range from 50 to 75 years old, and some of the priests may still function as such outside of the home.

“The residents will help out in parishes that need assistance with masses,” Szakaly said, “and hospitals with chaplains.”

Father Charles Kohlerman, Religious Superior of Holy Cross House, wanted to make clear the distinction between his nursing home and the new retirement home.

He defined the new home as “independent, intergenerational living that is elderly-friendly.”

Its residents would require only minimal assistance, such as food preparation, whereas residents of Holy Cross House often demand full medical care.

“This would be as if they’re going to stay with a family member,” Jim Kavanaugh, interim director of the Fatima Retreat Center, said. He explained that when laypersons reach this age range, they typically move in with one of their children. As priests have no children, the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross should provide care for them.

“The idea is that the priests could live here and then transfer to the Holy Cross House when that was needed,” Kavanaugh said.

The Indiana Province will assign a religious superior to the home, but Kavanaugh will continue as building director, which means he will be in charge of maintenance and non-religious staff. The current food service and maintenance staff at the center will move to other positions within the University.

Under his care, the 40 rooms in the center will be transformed into 26 efficiency-style apartments, with a bedroom, living room and bathroom. Also, the chapel will be renovated, and two elevators, an exercise room and an outdoor porch will be added.

The Indiana Province has not yet assigned any priests to the home, but already anticipates many occupants, including some of those already living in the Mission portion of the current retreat center. It will most likely not be filled to capacity within the first year, however, according to Szakaly.

Also, as the Fatima Shrine predates the retreat center, so it will outlive it. If all goes as planned, said Szakaly, the Shrine will remain open to the public and a garden may be added to the property.

Some renovations are already starting, and passers-by can now see much more of the land as many of the trees overhanging the building have been removed.

As he sat in his corner office overlooking the front lawn, Kavanaugh motioned outside to the landscapers, who by this time were raking up the debris from the trees that had just sawed down.

“It’s all good, it’s just different,” he said of the transformation. “Those Holy Cross priests that ministered to those retreats will now be some of those very priests that will benefit from living here in the future.”