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Out with the oldsters: Sisters of Mercy to send Narrows Senior Center into early retirement

Senior stalwart: Pauline Castagna, a loyal visitor of the Narrows Senior Center, is heartbroken that the community gathering place will shutter.
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Call it a bad case of senioritis.

Close to 100 seniors who frequent the Narrows Senior Center at the recently sold Angel Guardian home in Dyker Heights need to find a new community by next month because the Sisters of Mercy are kicking the center out earlier than expected, according to some of the center’s loyal seniors, who are heartbroken and furious that the Sisters cut its lease short after they sold the storied property to a mystery developer.

One crestfallen Bath Beach resident said she’s in disbelief that the Sisters will cut the center’s close community ties by forcing the seniors out, and that she wishes the historic property wouldn’t be bulldozed away.

“It’s like a family. I’ve never been to a center as warm as this,” said Rosemary DeCillis. “You don’t know how upset I am that this is all going to be broken down. That property means a lot to me. We were all almost crying when we found out that we had to close.”

The lease for the Narrows Senior Center, which is operated by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens — one of the failed bidders for the property — isn’t up until this June, but the Sisters issued the center written notice on Dec. 4 that it had to vacate the property within 60 days — by Feb. 2 — according to Catholic Charities spokeswoman Lucy Garrido-Mota,

The lease contains a clause allowing the Sisters terminate it at any time, provided they gave 60 days notice, said Garrido-Mota, adding that Catholic Charities is seeking an extension on the move-out date, which she said the nuns were considering.

One senior who lives across the street from the historic home said that those who frequent the Narrows are particularly close, and face an uncertain future if they are literally tossed out in the cold next month.

“They’re all like family, I would say. We’re all very close, we all care about each other. I call out the bingo, we have meetings, we talk about what’s going on in the world today, they have painting, all kinds of things. It’s very sad that this is going to break up,” said Pauline Castagna. “We don’t know where we’re going to go, we don’t know the next step.”

There are other senior centers in the area — including the ones at Bensonhurst and Fort Hamilton and three in Borough Park — but one Narrows stalwart said she’s not interested in finding a new center.

“It’s cozy — I feel like it’s my home,” said Bensonhurst resident Stella Varriale, who has gone to the Narrows center every day for more than two years. “I tried other places, but not for very long.”

In addition to a remarkably close community, the Narrows center provides many practical amenities to local seniors. The center has two vans to take seniors on day trips and outings, Garrido-Mota said, and volunteers use the center’s kitchen to cater meals for the Catholic Charities Lodge Senior Center on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, between 77th and 78th streets.

The center is currently hoping to relocate to the nearby St. Philips Episcopal Church, at 80th Street and 11th Avenue, and is working with the city Department for the Aging — which funds it — to ensure the relocation can happen by the kick-out date, Garrido-Mota said.

But the seniors who have come to see the Narrows center as their second home are even more worried that the Sisters have sold the sprawling property to a heartless developer who will tear down the buildings — along with all the memories inside — to put in luxury condos. DeCillis said she believes the Sisters and the buyer are only concerned with maximizing the property’s monetary value.

“I don’t feel that the building in the front, which I’ve known for all my life, should be broken down,” DeCillis said. “I think they’re going to build the most expensive place that they possibly could, and I think they’re going to make a very big profit on other peoples’ misery. Nothing matters — money is the object.”

Varriale agreed that it looks like the Sisters and the new developer have chosen to serve mammon, come what may.

“To lose [the center], it’s gonna hurt me, it’s gonna hurt others. And I’m not very happy about that,” Varriale said. “It’s sad. I guess they want their money.”

The Sisters of Mercy did not respond to a request for comment.

There had been loud calls from the community for the Sisters to sell to a developer promising to create much-needed affordable senior housing but the pleas fell on deaf ears.

“There were other bidders that would’ve done the right thing for the community. They would’ve put senior housing, kept the green space,” said Castagna.

In fact, one of those bidders was Catholic Charities, the group that operates the Narrows Senior Center.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 9:06 am, January 9, 2018
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