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Mary Immaculate Center to close

Philadelphia Archdiocese to shutter Mary Immaculate Center retreat house
By Daniel Patrick Sheehan
June 25, 2009

The Mary Immaculate Center in Lehigh Township, a spiritual retreat house owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has become too costly to maintain in the bad economy and will be closed, officials said.

The center, which features Romanesque architecture and has many antiquities among its holdings, sits on a 460-acre tract at the highest point of the Northampton County township and offers panoramic views of the Lehigh Valley.

'It's allowed thousands of people to deepen their faith, but the economic realities of the upkeep mean we simply cannot afford to maintain it,'' said Donna Farrell, director of the archdiocese communication office.

The center opened in 1939 as a seminary for the Congregation of Missions of St. Vincent de Paul, or Vincentians. It later expanded to accept priests from other orders. About 500 men were ordained there before the seminary closed in 1990. The building then housed students from other seminaries for periods of spiritual formation.

In 1996, the Vincentians sold the property to the archdiocese for $4 million and it became a retreat center serving people of all faiths. According to media reports, critics slammed now retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua for making the purchase quietly in the midst of a diocesan downsizing.

Bevilacqua at the time called it a prudent investment, but the archdiocese today can't afford maintenance costs of around $1 million a year.

The center will likely close by the end of July. Farrell said there are no immediate plans to sell the property, which includes a chapel with elaborate stained glass windows, walking paths, a ball field and a basketball court among other features. It can house 160 people in individual rooms and suites.

''We want to explore the possibility of someone else in the Catholic community being able to make use of it and continuing to use it as a retreat center,'' Farrell said.

Retreats and other gatherings have featured prominent guests, including the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a famed Franciscan priest and author who is a frequent guest on EWTN, the Catholic television network.

''Everybody who comes here loves it,'' said director Michael Six. ''It's a very beautiful place, and very peaceful. It's been a great asset not only for the church but for the whole community.''
Copyright © 2009, The Morning Call

1936: The Congregation of Missions of St. Vincent de Paul in Philadelphia announces plans to build a seminary on 460 acres in Lehigh Township.

1938: More than 15,000 gather at the cornerstone blessing for the seminary being built at the highest point in the Lehigh Township, near the palisades of the Lehigh River.

1939: Doors open for the first seminarians. First priests are ordained a year later.

1969: Seminary opens to priests of other dioceses and other orders.

1990: Last two seminarians are ordained in Queen of All Saints Chapel. The seminary, which had ordained nearly 500 men, closes.

1996: The Vincentian Fathers sell the seminary to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The seminary is subsequently opened as a spiritual retreat center.



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