ASTON — Some Neumann University students are the first ever to move into the west wing of Our Lady of the Angels Convent, a building the college purchased from the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
In 2021, Neumann purchased the convent and 63 acres from the congregation and converted one section of the sprawling 152,000-square-foot building into Glen Riddle Hall, the newest residential facility on campus, though parts of it are 150 years old.
The monastery complex was built in stages from 1873 to 1930.
Formerly called the Franciscan Spiritual Center, the wing that will house students this fall is the latest addition to the building.
Dr. Christopher Domes, Neumann’s president, said the move is part of the university’s effort to return to the school’s early roots and provide students with an understanding of the sisters’ purpose, history and legacy.
“One of the exciting things is that students are coming into a space that dates back to the early beginnings of this university,” Domes said during a tour of the residence halls. “The corridors the students walk through today and the rooms they live in were actually classrooms for the first educational ‘regular school’ that the sisters created for themselves to help prepare teachers and develop teachers to go to Catholic schools. This was the beginning of thinking about whether we should open a university. »
For the more than 30 sisters who will live in another part of the sprawling building, these changes are seen as positive.
“We just didn’t need that building anymore, so we were thrilled when Neumann came up and said they were interested,” said Sister Kathy Dougherty, Neumann University’s vice president for missions and ministry, who has been in the order for 44 years. “It’s a perfect fit for us, Neumann is a sponsored ministry of the sisters and they carry our values.”
Daughtery said some of the sisters had a bittersweet feeling of change, since this is their home and the place where they entered the order.
“We celebrate all our major life events here … most of us have had our vows, anniversaries and funerals here,” she said. “The fact that it’s Neumann softened it tremendously. Everyone feels that it is just natural. The sisters feel very good about it.”
“Where the students are now was our spiritual center (in recent years) where people would come for weekend retreats or week-long retreats, but we just don’t have the numbers we used to,” Sister Dougherty said.
The sisters are still there
More than 30 sisters will continue to live at the convent in quarters separate from the students in the sprawling building.
Dougherty said they will eventually move into the Assisi home and make it both their home and their retirement home.
Dougherty said a number of graduate students already in place were excited about the new dorm.
“I think they like the history and their rooms have great views. They really express it,” Dougherty said.
“All the rooms have great views from the windows, and the dorms are very nice, with new furniture in all the rooms,” said graduate student and hall assistant director Zayan Snell. “I think the students love it.”
“The sisters lived here, the sisters studied here. To put that back into the community is really good,” said Rayvan Williams, resident assistant. “We’re starting history again.”
“The dorms are beautiful,” said Blanca Caceres, mom of incoming freshman Sofia Lozada of Bear, Del.
Caceres said that while she will miss her daughter, the opportunities will make it easier.
“The school has been very welcoming … it’s a safe environment, a good and close-knit school,” she said.
In turn, Lozada said that the school reminds her of a small Catholic high school.
“These dorms are so cool. I love windows and views,” she said.
On Thursday morning, the students were housed in 200-square-foot double rooms on the second and third floors of the convent.
The rooms have high ceilings, spacious bathrooms and on one side a view of the grounds and the famous dome of the monastery.
The basement of the new residence hall (where the Sisters of St. Francis skated and played basketball) and the first floor will be used for events and programs in 2022-23. The fourth floor will remain uninhabited for the next year.
Glen Riddle Hall joins Flynn, Cunningham, and O’Neill Halls, Chiara House, Poco House, Buoni Apartments, and Padre Pio House, which houses 704 students.
Housing has become so popular at the university that 37 people are on the waiting list.
The acquisition of the convent will allow Neyman to increase its enrollment and ultimately increase its classroom space.
Officials plan to move admissions and administrative offices to the convent and, eventually, when the sisters move additional dormitories.