Real estate developer Aquinas Realty Partners has been chosen by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to plan the sale and potential redevelopment of the motherhouse in Bensalem, according to a release by the sisters Jan. 11.
The land on which the motherhouse and Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel sits was purchased by the saintly Philadelphia socialite when she founded the congregation in 1891.
In May 2016 the sisters announced their intention to put the property up for sale, doing so “with a heavy heart and a clear assessment of our community’s situation,” said Sister Donna Breslin, president of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
The number of sisters living at the motherhouse has declined over the years, as have the number of visitors to the shrine. Last year four elderly infirm sisters moved from the motherhouse to Paul’s Run Retirement Community in Northeast Philadelphia.
Havertown-based Aquinas Realty Partners intends to build an over-55 residential community on the property, according to Leonard Poncia, president and managing partner.
The project proceeds now to the due diligence phase to determine feasibility for a proposed redevelopment of the property in lower Bucks County overlooking Interstate 95.
Plante Moran, a real estate investment advisory firm, had helped the sisters select Aquinas for the project. According to its website, Aquinas currently has completed or is working on six redevelopment projects in the Philadelphia area.
One of these is the former St. Vincent Home in the Tacony section of Philadelphia, to which St. Katharine and the Drexel family made significant contributions, according to a history by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Founded in 1855 as an orphanage, for decades later it served as a facility for young women in crisis pregnancies.
Today the ministry to at-risk girls and young women and their families continues to be provided by Catholic Social Services through community-based group homes.
Proceeds of the eventual sale of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters’ motherhouse will support the care of elderly sisters and continue the order’s mission in “the vision and spirit of St. Katharine Drexel,” said Sister Donna.
“We continue to direct the resources of our Catholic religious order to our mission by serving some of the most vulnerable people in the United States, Haiti and Jamaica,” she said. “Our sisters continue to challenge, in new ways, all forms of racism as well as other deeply rooted injustices in the world.”