They’re being called the “Sisters of No Mercy.”
Less than a month after selling the storied Angel Guardian Home to a mystery developer, it was reported that the Sisters of Mercy would be closing the Narrows Senior Center – the last remaining lease-holder within the 140,000-square-foot Dyker Heights institution – four months early, leaving close to 100 seniors feeling slighted and betrayed.
The site – sold in September to a still unnamed buyer – was built in 1902, according to city records, and served as an extension of the Convent of Mercy, housing hundreds of orphans and eventually acting as a formal adoption agency until the 1970s.
In 2003, the Angel Guardian Home merged with St. Mary’s of the Angels Home to form the MercyFirst network of agencies. Up until late 2016last year, the campus – which spans the entire block – housed the offices for the Sisters’ foster care program as well as the senior center.
The Dyker Heights community bid adieu to the foster care program at a November, 2016 goodbye party, during which employees, former volunteers and past residents were able to reminisce in preparation for Angel Guardian’s office’s eventual move to Industry City in Sunset Park.
The senior center – operated by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, one of the bypassed bidders for the space – was safe until June, according to Catholic Charities, until the Sisters issued the center written notice in early December that it would have to vacate the property, instead, by February 2.
While this doesn’t violate the lease (in it is a clause which allows the Sisters to cut ties at any time, giving at least 60 days notice), locals are considering it salt in the wounds of an already touchy turnover.
“We don’t know who the developer is, we don’t know exactly what they’re developing – it’s all a mystery,” said Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone at Community Board 10’s January general board meeting. “We’re trying to find out what’s going to be happening there. It’s very distressing.”
The premature closure of the senior center especially upsets Vella-Marrone who, amidst debates of whether senior housing or a new school would be a better utilization of the space, had hoped to see the plan veer towards serving seniors.
“I’m concerned as the president of Dyker Civic and just as a citizen,” she said, “and I’m absolutely concerned about the fact that these senior citizens who have been going to this center for so many years are going to have to leave and go to someplace unfamiliar to them, that they’re being shorted.
“The Sisters are basically just tossing them out into the cold,” Vella-Marrone went on, “and I think that’s a really, really terrible thing to do.”
Councilmember Justin Brannan – who wrote to Sister Patricia Vetrano, current president of the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community, earlier this month – shares similar sentiments.
“I’ve barely been in office for [two] weeks. The sign above the front door of my office still has my predecessor’s name and, as you can see, I don’t even have my own letterhead yet but I had to write you immediately because this simply cannot wait,” he wrote. “We have to do everything we can for our seniors and I would assume the Sisters of Mercy would agree. Unfortunately, it seems like a real estate deal, that may be no good for the neighborhood anyway, has clouded the mission that once made the Angel Guardian Home such a great place in our community.”
Both Brannan and Vella-Marrone plan to attend a Friday, February 2 rally in front of the center, 1230 63rd Street, aimed at saving the center and getting some answers.
While Dyker Heights rallies, Catholic Charities is working towards an extension (which, Brooklyn Daily reports, the nuns were considering as of earlier this month).
Vetrano, Brannan hopes, is reflecting on what Mother Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, the founder of the Sisters, would do in this case.
“Would she sell the Angel Guardian campus that was built in 1899 and operated as an orphanage until the 1970s to the highest bidder regardless of their plans for the property?” he said. “And would she then cut short the lease so the new owner could demolish it even sooner and leave 100 loyal and local seniors without anywhere to go in the middle of the February freeze?
“I wonder what she would think of how things are going down at the Angel Guardian Home these days.”
By press time, the Sisters of Mercy had not responded to this paper’s request for comment.