The Sisters of Mercy have shown at least a modicum of sympathy for close to 100 Dyker Heights seniors who, until today believed they were being forced out of their beloved Narrows Senior Center months earlier than its original end-of-lease date.
The Sisters’ mercy, however, wasn’t apparent before center-goers, local politicians and neighborhood stakeholders alike could rally in support of the center – the last remaining lease-holder within the 140,000-square-foot, block-long Angel Guardian Home, which was sold in September by its owners, the Sisters of Mercy, to a still-mysterious buyer.
The senior center – operated by Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens – was once safe until June. However, as dust settled from the property’s hush-hush sale in September, the Sisters issued the center written notice that it would have to vacate the property, instead, by February 2.
That time frame has now been extended. According to a typed and printed statement made by the Narrows Senior Center and shared with the public by Brooklyn Daily reporter Julianne McShane, Catholic Charities entered into a verbal agreement with the Sisters agreeing to vacate by the end of April, or May 15 at the latest. McShane later confirmed that the center will now have until June 4.
News of the extension came just an hour after the passionate rally (organized by loyal center-goer Pauline Castagna), participants of which braved the bitter cold to voice their disappointment in the Sisters.
Even with a reprieve, however, the center’s supporters are not satisfied. The center’s inevitable move, they said, will bring seniors to Catholic Charities Stedman/Minkin Senior Residences (located at least 10 blocks and two avenues away at Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street) – a new location that protesters, however grateful, fear will not suffice.
“To ask these seniors to go a mile down the road with no parking, in a basement that’s not handicapped-accessible, is just plain wrong,” said State Senator Marty Golden. “I thank them for opening their door but it is not right for our seniors here at the Narrows Senior Center and we’re not going to stand for it.”
However, Catholic Charities — which made an unsuccessful effort to acquire the property, following a request for proposal (RFP) issued last year — is hopeful.
“We [feel] once the move takes place, the seniors will be happy with their new home,” its statement read.
And that’s not the only issue to roil protesters, who further claimed Friday that the Sisters had promised that their choice would be one that reflects the needs of the community – something locals say, with the buyer still under wraps and only the worst assumed, the congregation has doubled back on.
“The Sisters of Mercy put out an RFP and they didn’t listen to their own agreement,” asserted Golden. “Part of that agreement was that affordable senior housing be built at this location. They did the wrong thing, and that’s why we’re here.”
“They entered a contract with somebody we don’t even know. . .we’ve been left totally in the dark,” said Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone. “That is a big, big problem.”
For his part, Councilmember Justin Brannan – who wrote to Sister Patricia Vetrano, current president of the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community, in January – wondered what could possibly prompt the Sisters to want to kick the seniors out in the first place.
“The sale is not even complete! We don’t even know who is buying the property or what they plan to do with it,” he said during the rally, adding that, by forcing out the seniors, the Sisters “are spitting in the face of this community.”
Brannan was particularly incensed by the early close date for the senior center which, he said, “should be allowed to stay here at Angel Guardian until their lease, which everybody agreed upon, runs out in June. You wanna kick us out to bulldoze this place and build more luxury condos? Knock yourself out. But we will not let you kick our seniors into the cold and whatever happens to this property, the community will be watching.”
According to Golden, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio actually penned a letter to the Vatican requesting that the Angel Guardian Home remain intact and be put to a use that serves its surroundings – something, Assemblymember Peter Abbate urged, that should be taken a step further to include a reevaluation of the current state of the Sisters of Mercy.
“Those nuns who are there today are a disgrace to their order. Those poor nuns who built this foundation here are probably turning in their graves,” he said. “We should write to the Pope asking to disband the order since they no longer believe in their own charter.”
Prior to the home’s sale, Dyker residents and stakeholders had argued for such things as affordable senior housing and a new school at the site, which 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 2016, the campus 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.
Among those also in attendance at the rally were former Councilmember Vincent Gentile; Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, whose district encompasses the block in question; Patrick Lewis, outreach coordinator for Public Advocate Letitia James; Max Rose, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress; Ross Barkan, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for State Senate; and Andrew Gounardes, also a candidate for the Democratic nod for State Senate, who spoke on behalf of Borough President Eric Adams, all of whom joined their voices to echo community concerns about the fate of the senior center and the property as a whole.
“Obviously, we’d like to do a re-bid on this property,” said Golden.
“This is our fight,” contended local senior Jean Detorre. “We want this and we’re not gonna back down until we get it. Who do they think they are?”