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Fight for Mercy Convent

The Brooklyn Paper
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A miracle is needed, or at least some good old-fashioned community grassroots organizing.

Both might be in the offering as the 146-year-old Sisters of Mercy Convent at 273 Willoughby St. is being shuttered and may be sold to the highest bidder.

As reported in the New York Times, the order’s leadership decided that the old complex presented too many obstacles for the older nuns it housed.

Additionally, an engineering study concluded it would take about $20 million to renovate, which would include exterior work, removal of asbestos and rebuilding the foundation.

Thus, according to the Times, the president for the region that includes the convent is considering selling the property and using the money to finance social and educational work by the order, which still has about 4,000 nuns in the United States.

While phone calls to the regional office, located in Pennsylvania, were not returned at press time, the order has reportedly found new housing for most of the 38 nuns who had lived at the facility.

However, a spokesperson for the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center, which is run separately on a ground floor in the complex, said they have not been told they have to move.

The center helps families and individuals in housing and immigration issues as well as offering counseling, and adult and ESL classes.

Meanwhile, the Society For Clinton Hill (SCH) started an online petition drive to get the site designated a landmark so the iconic 19th century structure is preserved.

“We found out a couple of months ago that the number of nuns was dwindling, and the Catholic Church was thinking of selling off the property, and we were afraid it might go to a less than sensitive developer who would raze the property and build more luxury condos,” said SCH member Sharon Barnes.

Barnes noted that the SCH spearheaded a study four years ago that looked at expanding the current Clinton Hill Historic District, and its findings recommended that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designate five structures as individual landmarks.

Amongst the five structures was the convent, she said.

That report was submitted to the LPC in 2007, and they did a preliminary review, but has yet to respond, said Barnes.

“So we started the online petition urging the LPC to review our report, and not let it (convent) be destroyed by default,” said Barnes.

The LPC has had the report for a year and a half and the petition asks them to put it higher on their agenda and step up the schedule, she said.

LPC spokesperson Lisi deBourbon said a review for individual landmark status on the Sister of Mercy convent complex has started.

“We have not made a recommendation to the full commission and haven’t set a time line yet,” said deBourbon.

“We just started an outreach to the owner. The owner consent is not required, but we try to seek it because going forward it (landmark designation) can be a lot less free of contention,” she added.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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