Moving out



Matt Kelly

While students were resting at home over Christmas break, St. Thomas of Villanova priests were preparing to find new ones. During the semester recess, 56 priests moved out of the on-campus monastery in order to make way for renovations that will begin this spring.

The 80-year-old building is getting an interior overhaul to fix plumbing, handicap accessibility and safety problems. A call for renovations developed out of the need to accommodate the elderly and ill priests in the community.

“We’re going to rehabilitate the building according to what I would call present code standards,” Rev. Bill Donnally, O.S.A., who is heading up the project, said. Along with Donnally, a Monastery Renovation Committee, composed of Rev. Jack McAtee, O.S.A., Rev. Kail Ellis, O.S.A., and Rev. Tony Burrascano, O.S.A., has been appointed to oversee the plans.

“You have an aging community and you have needs that are now being met in- house rather than going outside to a nursing home,” Donnally said.

“We’re trying to take care of our own family.”

The committee has finished the conceptual phase and is currently working on the design process. New plans include fixing the uneven height of the floors and adding private bathrooms to each room. Before any interior rehabilitation can begin, asbestos must be removed.

“Fortunately, there is not that much,” Donnally said. “There is asbestos in the dining room and in the basement around the heating pipes.

“Any building as old as this is going to have asbestos.”

News of renovations raised concerns as to the preservation of the monastery’s historic exterior. The monastery burned down in 1932 and was rebuilt in 1933.

While some demolition will be required to expand the rooms, Donnally noted that the aesthetics of the building will remain the same.

“Nothing will change on the Lancaster [Avenue] side of this building,” Donnally said. “If you’re walking up from Lancaster [Avenue], the building will look exactly the same as it does now.” The artwork, which decorated the inside, has also been safely placed into storage.

Renovations to the building are not a University project; this is a project of St. Thomas of Villanova Province. Under the direction of the current provincial, Rev. Donald Reilly, O.S.A., WRT Architectural Firm in Philadelphia, helped develop the initial conceptual phase. This firm is known for its work with nursing homes. Kitchen Associates have been contracted for the design portion.

Plans for reconstruction of the monastery have been in the works for years. In 1994, under the administration of Rev. John Hagen, O.S.A., an architect was contracted to turn the St. Thomas wing into an infirmary. The wing, which at one time was a dorm for students, was transformed into 12 units for sick members of the community. This wing contains the only elevator in the building.

During the term of Rev. John Deegan, O.S.A., upgrades continued as a provincial and a health care committee was established. With the help of Dr. Louise Fitzpatrick, the Dean of Nursing, a consultant from Boston was hired to do an investigation on how the community could best care for its sick members. The purpose of the committee was to to develop facilities that can accurately meet the needs of older members of the religious community.

The priests are currently staying in various locations, including Monsignor Bonner Friary in Drexel Hill and St. Augustine Friary on Ashford Road.

Many priests were not thrilled about relocating. Donnally said, “Some of these men have lived here over 40 years,” Donnally said.

No one likes change. If you haven’t had to deal with moving … it’s extremely difficult. [But] the move went as well as anyone had hoped it could.”

After the completion of the renovations, everyone will return to the monastery.

“We hope everyone will move back here next December or January,” Donally said. “That’s what you call hope. What reality will be, we don’t know. The good news is they are coming back.”