WEST RIDGE — For more than a century, the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago have lived and worked on a large campus in West Ridge, which at one point housed about 200 nuns.
In recent years, the number of nuns living at the campus has fallen to the mid-20s, and the average age of the residents is in the low 80s, said Sister Judith Murphy, the prioress of the local Benedictine order of nuns.
To preserve their place in the community and continue to care for its population, the Benedictine Sisters want to sell a portion of its campus at 7430 N. Ridge Blvd. to a developer who would build a senior living center.
Doing so would allow the order of nuns to “right size” their sprawling campus, provide adequate housing to its aging population and provide needed senior living space for the community, Murphy said at a community meeting Monday.
“There’s some things about our current building that are both too large but also not good for us as we age,” Murphy said. “It seems [a senior living center] can help fill some of the other needs of seniors in the neighborhood. That sounds like a win-win for us and for the neighborhood.”
The Benedictine Sisters are trying to get a zoning amendment that would allow for a senior living center on its campus. If that is granted, the order will look for a developer and operator to build such a facility.
Plans call for an independent senior living center to be built on the three northernmost acres of the nearly 15-acre campus. The sisters and consulting firm Plante Moran have conceived of a four-story building with as many as 100 apartments for older people and a 134-space parking lot, though a developer would determine the final scope of the project.
The plan would be for the Benedictine Sisters to move into the senior center when it is completed.
The building would rise north of the existing private road into the campus, and it would require the demolition of a two-story structure that houses some of the nuns living on the campus. The plans would also require the demolition of a garden and a hedge “labyrinth,” though Murphy said she hopes the labyrinth could be re-established elsewhere on the property.
The development would not impact the main monastery building along Ridge Boulevard. Some of the building is used for Cruz School, a K-12 charter school run by Acero. The school operator has a lease on the building through 2024, according to the Benedictine Sisters.
Some of that building is still set up for monastery living, but the facility is too big and inadequate for an aging population of nuns. It’s possible the space can be repurposed, but its age and size wouldn’t work well for senior apartments, Murphy said.
“It’s been adjusted about as much as it could be,” she said. “It just doesn’t lend itself to being repurposed as such.”
The Benedictine Sisters first came to Chicago in 1861. The order built St. Scholastica Monastery on Ridge Boulevard in 1906. The following year, St. Scholastica Academy opened on the campus.
The high school closed in 2013, citing dwindling enrollment and the cost of running the school.
The finances of running such a large campus continue to be a challenge for the Catholic order, its representatives said. But establishing a senior living center on the campus could help the order thrive in the future and keep alive its mission of education, said consultant Thomas Zimmer.
“It helps with their legacy,” said Zimmer, senior vice president with Plante Moran, which is working on the project. “They would love to see people, children being educated here.”
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said Monday’s community meeting was the first step in what will likely be a years-long process. There will be more community meetings when a developer is selected and plans are proposed, she said.
“This is going to be a big project,” Hadden said. “This is not going to be our first and only meeting on it.”
To view Monday’s community meeting on the proposal, click here. Input on the project can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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