HUMBOLDT — The spirit and legacy of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth is reflected in a seniors’ housing development planned for the order’s former convent in Humboldt, say those who initiated the project as a response to a desperate need.
Christened “The Elizabeth,” the planned assisted-living facility will permit low-income seniors to live independently, with meals provided and other supports available through home care.
For generations, women religious in the region — the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth and the Ursulines of Bruno — responded to the needs around them, rallying the wider community to create facilities, services and outreach, points out Agnes Pratchler, a member of the committee that is planning the convent redevelopment.
It was the Sisters of St. Elizabeth who worked to build and operate St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and St. Mary’s Villa in Humboldt, who lobbied the government to provide home care nursing, and who initiated Meals on Wheels.
“When the Sisters left Humboldt, they left behind a great void that has not been closed, and the community is struggling with that void,” says Pratchler. She adds that it is now up to the community to step up and respond to needs — such as the desperate lack of affordable housing for seniors who do not need high levels of nursing care, but who require some support.
Pratchler describes how in May 2013 a group of local women met to discuss the struggles of a loved one who needed help with daily needs. “They came up with the idea of having the people who are in need of help live in the same housing complex and get their meals provided, and with home care already available (this) should solve those needs.”
Around this time it was suggested that a care home would be a good use for the vacant convent building that had been sold to the city of Humboldt when the Sisters of St. Elizabeth retired to Saskatoon.
“It is a solid brick building and good for many more years,” says Pratchler, describing how committee members met with city of Humboldt officials, the Humboldt Housing Authority, the provincial health minister, and representatives of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation about the idea. Eventually a tour of the former convent was organized in 2014 for representatives of all levels of government, who were impressed with the quality of the building and the beautiful grounds.
With the encouragement of officials, and now incorporated as a non-profit organization, The Elizabeth committee is working with Stewart Properties to renovate the facility, with a hope of opening 41 units within a year or so, says committee member Cori Norman.
“Humboldt can be very proud of the sisters and their legacy — and this building is a part of their legacy,” she asserts. “They knew that their last gift to the community could continue their legacy.”
Sister Philomena Dobmeier, OSE, has expressed the order’s support for the project: “In all our dealings we felt the convent should be re-purposed. It was built so well and was kept up so well. Senior housing and affordable housing was something that was very much needed in the city of Humboldt. This would certainly carry on the legacy and charism of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth who for over 100 years brought quality health care to Humboldt and the surrounding areas.”
The Elizabeth committee has received “an overwhelming response” from the community, says Norman. A Sept. 15 public meeting to discuss plans for the convent building was well attended. A $400,000 capital campaign has been launched, with plans to furnish the facility with a hydrosound bathtub and lift, and to renovate the dining and multipurpose room, chapel, offices and front entrance, as well as to upgrade and equip the kitchen with a walk-in cooler, stoves, freezers and other equipment. Donations are tax deductible.
Committee members note that The Elizabeth will reflect the philosophy of care that the Sisters of St. Elizabeth lived out when they strived to provide seniors at St. Mary’s Villa with beauty, enjoyment and normalcy in their lives through such amenities as gardening and pets. It is a philosophy of creating elder-centred communities that is now known as the Eden Alternative — and it is part of the vision for The Elizabeth.
“Our mission is to improve the well-being of elders and their care partners by transforming the communities in which they live,” Pratchler says of the Eden Alternative. “That statement is not so different from the view that Sister Colletta Kloppenburg, the first administrator of St. Mary’s Villa had many years ago.”