By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sister Dolores Ferry said she couldn’t believe how beautiful her old home is looking these days. “And it has an elevator now, too!” she said Tuesday upon paying a visit to the convent located next to Saint Anselm Catholic School that she moved out of a couple of years ago. Ferry was the last of a group of nuns who had been living in the convent for decades. When she moved to Park Slope, the Rev. Msgr. John Maloney, pastor of St. Anselm Church, and parish leaders decided to rent out the building.
The new tenant is YAI, a non-profit organization that proves services to the developmentally disabled and their families. YAI operates a group home for 16 elderly disabled clients in the former convent at 361 83rd St. in Bay Ridge. The former convent is located around the corner from St. Anselm Catholic Church. Following months of renovations and interior decorating, the group home opened in December. On April 9, Maloney joined YAI representatives for an Open House to celebrate a grand opening. The event gave the home’s residents the chance to present themselves to the Bay Ridge community.
“Welcome to my home!” resident Robert Aronoff said into the microphone at the start of the ceremony. Elected officials, civic leaders, and residents of 83rd Street all came to the former convent to see the new group home.
With the population of priests and nuns dwindling in the United States, more and more Catholic churches are faced with the dilemma of what to do with vacant land and property once the religious members retire or die. Many churches in the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn that have faced having to close convents and schools have decided to rent out the buildings.
The once crowded convent at St. Anselm Church was in its last years occupied by a smaller and smaller number of sisters until only Ferry was left.
“The building was built for a noble purpose,” Maloney said, adding that the sisters who lived in the convent taught at St. Anselm School. The presence of YAI is in keeping with the idea of having the convent building used for a noble purpose, he said.
The leasing agreement works for both sides. Maloney and YAI representatives said. YAI has a home for its clients and the rent the agency pays helps bring in money to the parish. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Maloney said.
Founded in 1957, YAI, originally known as the Young Adult Initiative, sponsors group homes and education programs for the developmentally disabled from infancy through the senior citizen years.
The three-story group home opened just before the holidays in December. Eight of the residents were relocated from a YAI residence in Park Slope, which opened in 1977, and the other eight moved from a YAI home in Cobble Hill, which had opened 13 years ago.
In both of those buildings, spaces for many of the residents who required wheelchairs were tight, according to Stephen E. Freeman, CEO of YAI. “We needed a building with wider entrances so that our residents could easily get from one room to another,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Architect Ann Falutico, who lives in Bay Ridge, redesigned the building’s interior and included in the plans the construction of an elevator to make it easier for wheelchair bound residents to get from one floor to another.
“The opening of this home represents the achievement of a 10-year effort to develop senior housing for people aging with developmental disabilities in Brooklyn,” said Fred Feibusch, vice president of Residential Services for YAI.
At the ceremony, YAI presented awards to individuals who the agency representatives described as being particularly helpful in the effort to convert the old convent into living space for the disabled. The awards were given to Falutico, Paul Cassone, executive director of the Guild for Exceptional Children, state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge southern Brooklyn) and representatives of the real estate office at the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Each honoree was given an original painting created by a YAI client enrolled in an arts program the agency runs. The painting presented to Falutico depicted the group home.