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Developer Plans To Redevelop Historic Jamaica Plain Monastery Into Multifamily

The Franciscan Monastery of St. Clare has adorned the corner of Centre Street and the Arborway in Jamaica Plain for nearly 90 years, but the nuns who have called the building home for decades are moving out to make way for a new project and a new set of residents.

The Holland Cos. proposed a 125K SF redevelopment of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Clare in Jamaica Plain.

The monastery was built in 1936 and has been the home of the Poor Clare Nuns ever since. But in the last couple of decades, dealing with the building's maintenance, including the removal of asbestos, has led the sisters to finally sell the property and move. 

In a partnership with The Holland Cos., a Boston-based development firm, the Poor Clare Nuns were able to buy a property in Westwood and sell their longtime monastery, which Holland plans to renovate into 20 new apartments and mixed-use space, along with adding a new building to the site.

“It’s a pretty sensitive site for them,” The Holland Cos. partner John Holland told Bisnow. “They’ve lived there their entire lives and never really left, so we worked with them to figure out what uses they would find appropriate for the existing monastery.”

Holland filed a letter of intent for the redevelopment project that will include the rehabilitation of the 54K SF monastery into 20 apartments and 20K SF of mixed-use space. The project will also include a new mass timber building that would be built behind the monastery and consist of 90 condominiums and 121 parking spaces.

Holland said that he has had a relationship with the sisters since the 1980s, when he helped to replace an altar at the monastery's chapel as part of a college thesis he was working on at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

He said he has been actively trying to help them find a new home since the issue of the monastery's mounting bills was brought up years ago. The sisters estimated the building needs $10M in repair costs alone, according to their website.

“I’ve been working with them for a couple of years to find a new location and to help them find a way that we could purchase this,” Holland said. 

Holland said that the location of the monastery adds a unique attractiveness — it is adjacent to the Arnold Arboretum, home to Harvard University's botanical research institute and a free public park.

"Everything from bird-watching to hiking to running and whatnot that goes to use the arboretum," Holland said. "[Future residents] will have a spot where they could actually perhaps meet before they go for a walk."

Holland said that although he and the sisters are proud of their vision for the monastery's future, he is interested in hearing what the community wants to see.

“We have to see how that all plays out,” Holland said. “Just because we imagine that — as in myself and the other architects in the office — doesn't necessarily mean that’ll be the final use. We'll see how it goes, but we're interested in what the larger community has to say about what they see as uses for those spaces.”

The plan hadn't always been to renovate the existing monastery. Last year, the nuns came under fire when they unveiled plans to demolish the building and sell the land. After stark criticism from the neighborhood, those plans were scrapped, the Boston Globe reported.

The building has historical significance. It is the oldest remaining purpose-built women’s monastery in the region, so it comes with preservation pressure from residents and historians.

There are 10 sisters living in the monastery, which was built to house 50, the Globe reported. At one point in its history, the monastery was running out of space with a peak of 64 nuns living inside its walls.

Last week, the Poor Clare Nuns purchased a seven-bedroom, 11-bathroom home in Westwood for $6M, according to public records. It is unclear when they will move out, but the order has already relocated the 39 bodies of deceased sisters that were held in a burial crypt on the property to a cemetery in West Roxbury, the Globe reported.

"It took us a bit to get the programming and get the scheme into the conceptual phase, which we've done, and we needed some time to help the sisters find a new place to live, which we've done," Holland said. "Now we're ready to sort of talk to the larger public about what we're planning."