Aging with Grace
The CSJs' new Carondelet Village will take an innovative approach to senior housing.
BY ANDY STEINER
Several years ago, members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) began discussing the need to improve and update their Bethany retirement facility on the corner of Randolph and Fairview avenues in St. Paul.
The Sisters have a long history of responding to the needs of the communities in which they live. A group of independent, strong-minded women, they also are committed to providing for themselves as they age. So it's no surprise that talk quickly turned to building a contemporary senior living and health facility that would be open not just to CSJs but to a range of community members, both women and men.
"As a congregation, we've always responded to new needs," explains Carolyn Puccio, CSJ '65, a member of the province leadership team. For members of the CSJ community, whose average age is rising, improved senior housing was a clear need. The Sisters also were keenly aware of another aging population: the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
After investigation, collaboration and discussion, Carondelet Village was born. Groundbreaking on the project is projected for fall 2009. The complex, which will combine a mix of subsidized and market-rate housing, will open to residents in 2011.
Co-owned and operated through a partnership with the nationally respected senior housing developers Presbyterian Homes, Carondelet Village will offer some 240 individual apartments, including studios and one- or two-bedroom units. Healthcare will be available for residents across the spectrum, from regular checkups to a fully staffed memory unit.
"This will be a place where people will have the opportunity to remain active, involved and stimulated," says Puccio. The Sisters have taken care to preserve the natural beauty of the grounds, and Carondelet Village's easy access to St. Catherine's St. Paul campus also will be a bonus for residents.
When it was constructed in the 1950s, the Bethany building was similar to most retirement homes of the era. But in the half-century since its construction, the facility has not kept up with developments in senior healthcare. Nor does it meet current Medicare standards.
Updating Bethany would mean more than knocking down walls and adding a fresh coat of paint. "This is not a building you can remodel," says Margaret Belanger, CSJ '61. "It is made out of cement block bricks, with no wooden walls. We were advised again and again that it would be cheaper to build new than to attempt to remodel the building."
The CSJs envisioned creating a place that felt bold, vital and alive — not a cold, clinical "holding pen" for the aged. So members of the community went in search of facilities that fully address the needs of the senior population.
"We traveled around the country and visited similar programs to help us develop a vision," Puccio says. "We saw things that we liked and things that we didn't like. We came up with a clear idea of what's needed to age graciously and vitally."
When the new facility opens in two years, up to 60 percent of the residents will be CSJs. Currently 100 sisters live in the Bethany building. As the CSJ population ages and dwindles, however, "more and more folks from the outside community will be moving in," Belanger says. "In 10 years, we might occupy just 40 percent of the building."
Working in collaboration with teams of architects and senior housing experts, the Sisters came up with a project that many — including Puccio herself — will one day be proud to call home. Many CSJs are happy to stay in their own homes and apartments, but those who plan to make the move are excited about the possibilities this new residential community offers.
"We're thrilled about this project," Puccio says. "The larger community's reaction has been enthusiastic, too. What we have dreamed of will now become a reality."
ANDY STEINER is a freelance writer based in St. Paul and a contributing editor of SCAN.
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