Diocese considers buying Benedictine HS
Members of the three diocesan consultative bodies — the Diocesan Finance Council, Priests’ Council and Pastoral Council — have recommended to Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo that the diocese continue to engage in dialogue with its attorneys and attorneys of the Redemptorist Fathers toward possible purchase of the Holy Family Retreat House in Hampton.
Their recommendation came at a plenary session of all three bodies March 30 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, shortly before The Catholic Virginian went to press later that afternoon.
The joint purchase of Richmond’s Benedictine High School by both the Diocese and St. Benedict Parish for $6 million also came under discussion. St. Benedict Parish has proposed that it would pay $3 million and is seeking $3 million from the Diocese for the other half of the purchase price.
Its goal is to retain access to the current church parking lot which is owned by Benedictine. The purchase price would include the high school building and former priory building in addition to the parking lot.
Father James Kauffmann, St. Benedict pastor, and Deacon Paul Mahefky, deacon at the parish who has extensive background in rehabilitation of existing buildings, say that the church, which is owned by the diocese is “land-locked” in its location in Richmond’s Museum District. They fear that without available off-street parking, St. Benedict Parish would have a serious problem remaining viable.
Bishop DiLorenzo, speaking to the gathering through a Skype hookup which allowed him to follow proceedings of the session on a TV screen in his home, explained why he had called for the plenary session. He was on view to the group from a large screen as he spoke.
“We want to have as much consultation as possible to hear the same thing at the same time in the room together,” he said, adding that “to do business in a way that is less than transparent is a big mistake.”
“The more consultation we have, the better off we’ll be,” the Bishop added.
He had not made a decision as to how the Diocese would pursue the purchase of Benedictine when The Catholic Virginian went to press.
Deacon Mahefky is recommending that the Diocese help St. Benedict’s purchase the high school. Both St. Benedict Parish and Benedictine are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. The high school is a Catholic boys military school which has been at its current location for the entire 100 years.
The building and adjacent parking lot is owned by the Benedictine monks of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Goochland County. The monks, who have a major debt to pay, are seeking to sell the high school building which shares its parking lot with St. Benedict Parish. Plans call for the high school to move to the abbey property on River Road and begin having classes there in September 2012.
The Benedictines have signed a “letter of intent” with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which wants to purchase the high school. The Museum is housed on property across the street from St. Benedict Church.
“Obviously the purchase will secure parking for us,” Deacon Mahefky said. But he added that St. Benedict’s could move its current elementary school to the high school building and have use of the gym and cafeteria and parish offices could move to what is known as the priory, a brick building attached to the church.
St. Benedict Parish could raise money for the purchase by selling its current elementary school to a developer and selling four houses it owns near the church. One of the houses is now used for parish offices. Another once served as the priest’s residence.
The current total assessed value of the four houses is $1,144,000. Deacon Mahefky said it is likely that the value of homes in the neighborhood will continue to increase.
St. Benedict’s proposes to sell its parochial school building at 3100 Grove Ave. which is valued at $2.5 million.
According to Father Kauffmann, St. Benedict Parish has 150 parishioners who are 70 and older, but 60 percent are age 32 and younger.
“Many families have five or six kids,” he said.
The school has approximately 200 students and is continuing to see enrollment rise, Father Kauffmann said, adding that the school will add a junior kindergarten class this fall. The capacity is 210 students.
The Benedictine monks entered into dialogue with the Virginia Museum about their possible purchase of the high school building. As negotiations continued, both parties signed a letter of intent. The Museum does not want to agree to allow permanent parking in the lot for St. Benedict Parish, but only for a limited amount of time.
Under a proposed agreement between the Diocese and the Benedictine monks, the high school would continue to operate from the current building for another 18 months rent-free from the date of settlement.
“If we don’t make the purchase, the Museum will buy it,” Deacon Mahefky said.
On the matter of the purchase of Holy Family Retreat House in Hampton, Mr. McGee said the Diocese, through its attorneys, have been in conversation with the Redemptorist Fathers through their lawyers.
“Our preference would be to have a document allowing us the right to first refusal,” he said. “They know we’re interested.”
Charles Bennett, a consultant who was responsible for the design and feasibility of the Diocesan Pastoral Center, said the Diocese has done a feasibility study of the retreat house with the goal of modernizing it.
The retreat house will likely be put on the market by the Redemptorist Fathers because they have announced they are leaving the Diocese of Richmond in late July because of fewer priestly vocations in their community. They have not set a purchase price.
The facility, located at 1414 N. Mallory Street in the Phoebus area of Hampton, sits on approximately 11 acres, some of which fronts Mill Creek which empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The center was opened in 1962 and a new chapel was built in 1967.
Mr. Bennett’s proposed model for the facility would be a newly constructed diocesan conference and retreat center with a reconfigured design for the existing building which would have 32 private rooms, each with two beds and its own bathroom, and a youth dorm which would be used by teens during youth retreats.
The plan also calls for six studio apartments which might be used by retired priests. There would be three units on two floors, each with a patio or balcony.
The total budget for renovating the property was estimated at $5.8 million “to do everything we would like to do in addition to what the purchase price of the property is,” Mr. Bennett said.
An alternate plan would be for the diocese to level the entire building “and start from scratch,” Mr. Bennett said, adding that expense would probably be about the same cost.
While the Redemptorists have not set a sale price on the property, Mr. Bennett said the location near Fort Monroe would make it attractive to developers.
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