Some may call it a “new mission,” but it really isn’t one, according to Sr. Mary Beth Ingham, General Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange of her order transforming their former Motherhouse into an affordable housing community.
THE SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH OF ORANGE ARE PICTURED IN FRONT OF THEIR MOTHERHOUSE ON BATAVIA STREET IN 1975. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH OF ORANGE
“It’s the mission we’ve always had since our foundation,” she said. “And that is to find the need, to find the people – and work together to meet those needs.”
THE FORMER BATAVIA STREET MOTHERHOUSE OF THE SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH OF ORANGE IS CURRENTLY UNDERGOING A $37 MILLION CONSTRUCTION RE-DEVELOPMENT. PHOTO BY PATTY MAHONEY
Eleven years ago, the sisters took a serious look at the use of the buildings on their property of 100 years — 11 acres in the city of Orange — and asked themselves how could the Motherhouse building continue to be of use to the most vulnerable in the community. Active sisters now live in community-owned houses throughout the Diocese while retired sisters live at Regina Residence on campus, a convent for some who need assisted living. The order then joined forces with affordable housing nonprofit Mercy Housing California (MHC), an institution they helped found — and started planning.
And now, with support from Mayor Dan Slater, the city and other investors, a $37 million development is currently under construction to turn their former Batavia Street home into 50 new apartment style homes with on-site supportive services. Eighteen of the apartments will be reserved for seniors impacted by homelessness.
SR. MARY BETH RECALLS WHAT LIFE USED TO BE LIKE AS A YOUNG SISTER LIVING AT THE MOTHERHOUSE AS SHE TAKES IN THE VIEW FROM HER ONCE-BEDROOM WINDOW. PHOTO BY KRISTIAN CARREON
Mayor Slater had this to say: “Orange is so blessed to have the sisters in our community. Their legacy, their tradition in our city is so long and it’s something that the whole city appreciates. They always step up to help the most vulnerable in our community and the fact that they’re stepping up to provide affordable housing to seniors and 18 units for homeless seniors, that is really impressive. That’s a huge issue in our city right now, it’s a huge issue in every city but in Orange, thanks to the sisters we are having solutions to that…we’re so thankful to you and for the partners you’ve assembled.”
A HARD HAT TOUR AND BRIEFING OF THE FUTURE VILLA ST. JOSEPH APARTMENTS WAS HELD ON JUNE 6. PHOTO BY KRISTIAN CARREON
Major investors include $16.3 million from UnitedHealth Group, and loans of $7.7 million from the City and County of Orange, $5.6 million from the State of California, and $5.7 million from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.
The existing structure, which was built in 1958, is being reconfigured to include 43 one-bedroom, 6 studios, and 1 two-bedroom staff unit. Additionally, there will be a community room with kitchen, laundry and terrace; bike and storage rooms; and an outdoor space featuring seating and gardens for residents to enjoy as a community.
A hard hat tour of the property in mid-construction phase and briefing for civic leaders and project partners was held earlier this month. The projected date of completion for Villa St. Joseph is spring 2024, but the June 6 tour was a time for those involved to see their decade-long idea finally begin to come to fruition.
Walking the space she used to call home was nostalgic for Sr. Mary Beth, especially when she found what was once her room in the 1970s. She recalled what life used to be like as a young sister living at the Motherhouse as she took in the view from her once-bedroom window.
But the tone in her voice wasn’t one of melancholy – it was one of excitement.
“It’s just a wonderful day,” she said. “We’ve turned a corner from planning to action and things are moving ahead.
“The sisters are very excited to share their home, a place they love, with those who are most in need, those people who have no home, have no place to lay their head.”