St. Katharine Drexel shrine estate under contract to developer Aquinas with senior housing plan

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St. Katherine Drexel's Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament's "Motherhouse" property, home to the religious order for nearly 130 years. Credit:

Bucks County-based Aquinas Realty Partners is under contract to acquire the 44-acre Bensalem estate that hosted St. Katharine Drexel’s Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament religious order for nearly 130 years.

Aquinas will mull plans to convert what the Sisters call their Motherhouse property into dwellings for residents older than 55 during a “due diligence” period that’s expected to take two or three years, order spokeswoman Sheila King said in an interview Thursday.

Proceeds from the sale, if it occurs, would be used to fund the order’s charitable work among disadvantaged communities in the United States, Haiti, and Jamaica, Sister Donna Breslin, the order’s president, said in a news release.

“By selling our Motherhouse, we carry forward the vision and spirit of St. Katharine Drexel,” Breslin said. “Our Sisters continue to challenge, in new ways, all forms of racism, as well as other deeply rooted injustices in the world.”

A final sale price for the property was still being negotiated as part of the due diligence process, King said.

The order announced in May 2016 that it planned to sell the property, home to the National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, along with land it owns in Virginia amid the shrinking of its aging congregation.

Many of the order’s 50 or so members living on the property when the sale plan was announced have since moved to a Philadelphia retirement community, King said.

Drexel’s remains are to be removed from the shrine, which closed to visitors Dec. 31, and will be reinterred at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City.

Aquinas, whose recent projects have included the AQ Rittenhouse apartment high-rise at 2021 Chestnut St. in Center City, was chosen as a prospective buyer through a selection process overseen by the real estate advisory division of Plante & Moran PLLC of Southfield, Mich.

It was not yet known how many of the estate’s 10 buildings, half of which were built before 1933, would be converted to residences, or how much new construction may occur at the site, King said.

Aquinas president Leonard Poncia did not immediately respond to an email seeking further details.

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