Convents Around Area, Country Close As Nuns Age, Numbers Dwindle

BLUE POINT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Convents in the Tri-State Area and across America are closing, as nuns who used to be a vibrant presence in schools and communities are aging rapidly.

As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported exclusively Tuesday, many nuns are being forced to sell their mother homes to make ends meet.

One of those homes is located in Blue Point in Suffolk County. After nearly a century in America, the Ursuline Sisters are putting their longtime United States headquarters up for sale amid dwindling numbers.

“It means we are giving up what was home to all of us,” said Sister Joanne Callahan, province leader of the Ursuline Sisters.

But the sisters at the convent are getting up in age.

“We have a sister who is 100. We several in their 90s, about 12 in their 80s,” Callahan said.

One 87-year-old nun is the sister of former Yankees manager Joe Torre. Other nuns have been top leaders at Fordham University, as well as spiritual and health care providers.

There are also diocesan superintendents such as Callahan, who will continue to work.

Polls show the younger generation no longer feels the lure when it comes to being “women vowing poverty, chastity and obedience,” Callahan said.

Meanwhile, aging nuns are moving into assisted living and nursing homes. The order can no longer afford to run the St. Ursula Center, a landmark near the Great South Bay on 8 1/2 prime acres.

“Many congregations across the country are experiencing the same phenomenon and selling property,” Callahan said.

In the 1960s, there were 180,000 nuns in America. That number has slipped well below 47,000.

Mother houses for Amityville, Brentwood and Islip are facing similar concerns.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley is among Long Island lawmakers who want the buildings save.

“To move this library from here — the Blue Point Library — over to the convent” is what Foley said he wishes to happen.

The Ursuline nuns pray for a library and a benefactor, while acknowledging that more and more lay people are filling the spiritual void of nuns in America.

“God is in this, and this is our next phase, the next chapter of our existence,” Callahan said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has created a national religious retirement office to help nuns figure out how to pay for living costs and rising health care, as more sisters retire and few young nuns enter the convent.

In the back of the Blue Point property is a cemetery where 61 Ursuline nuns are buried.

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