Ground is expected to be broken in the spring on a new home for the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh, a monastic community of women that has lived and served in Ross Township since about 1926.
The new monastery will be located in Richland Township, on property located at 3526 Bakerstown Road that the sisters purchased in December. It will be about a third of the size of the 78,000-square-foot convent at 4530 Perrysville Avenue.
"We are very, very happy to have lived and served in the North Hills Area. It has been a wonderful experience for us to live here and be part of the community," said Sister Evelyn Dettling, a spokeswoman for the convent.
"It is only out of a sense of good stewardship that we are moving," she said, adding that the 10.8 acres of land in Ross and additional 40,000-square-foot building behind the monastery have become too much to maintain.
"We have great reverence for all that we own and use," she said. "We feel that with this many buildings, too many of our resources are going into maintenance rather than ministry and service."
The property in Ross, which was built in 1926 to serve both as housing for the sisters and as an all-girls school, is still on the market. It was appraised in November 2009 at $3.2 million. Dettling said there has been serious interest, but no buyer as of yet.
The sisters numbered about 100 when the building opened and peaked at about 200 during the mid-1960s. There are 52 remaining, with 44 living on-site in addition to others outside the community whom the sisters have taken in.
Rare tours of the monastery will be given to former alumni of St. Benedict's Academy in the upcoming months during scheduled Farewell Open Houses. (See below for the schedule.)
The school operated from 1931 until 1949 in the main building as Mount St. Mary's High School for Girls, and from 1950 until 1985 in the building behind the monastery as St. Benedict Academy.
"The academy was certainly a big part of our service to the North Hills," said Dettling, who taught at the school. "It was an exciting thing to work with all those young women and to help prepare them for their life's journey."
In more recent years, the former school was home to five nonprofits.
The new monastery in Richland Township is to be built on about 11.8 acres of land that had been a farm. A 4,536-square-foot farmhouse on the property that was built in 1831 and used as part of the Underground Railroad will remain in use as a welcome center for the sisters.
"The moment we stepped foot on the property, we knew it was a sacred space and our hearts told us that this was where God is sending us," said Prioress Sister Benita DeMatteis, in a prepared statement.
Dettling said it's sad to think about leaving Ross township, but it's also an exciting time.
"It's like the two sides of a coin," she said. "We're very, very excited and very happy about the possibility of moving to Bakerstown Road, to meeting new people, to serving new needs and to being able to steward our resources more to mission and ministry."
What memories do you have of attending St. Benedict's Academy or serving with the sisters? Tell us in the comments!
The Farewell Open Houses
If you are a former student of St. Benedict Academy, the sisters are offering a series of Farewell Open Houses on the following Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m: March 31 for the classes 1970 through 1986; April 21 for the classes 1964 through 1969; May 5 for the classes 1956 through 1963; and June 2 for the classes 1935 through 1955.
RSVP by Feb. 28. If you are unable to attend with your class, choose the date most convenient for you. The sisters recommend car pooling, if possible.