Proposal to convert St. Paul convent into homeless shelter being considered

Alex Jokich
Updated: February 24, 2021 07:29 PM
Created: February 24, 2021 07:06 PM

A former convent in St. Paul may soon become a shelter for homeless families with young children, according to a new proposal under consideration by the city.

The Provincial House, located on the Sisters of St. Joseph campus in the city's Highland Park neighborhood, dates back to 1927.

It was a home for Catholic sisters until about a decade ago, when the multi-building campus became more of a hub for their outreach programs instead of a living space. The sisters said the old convent has been 'underutilized' ever since.

"It could really be put to good use and I think that's part of what excites the sisters," said John Viktora-Croke, executive director of operations for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The Sisters of St. Joseph said they were recently contacted by Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul's Project Home program to see if the building may be able to transition into a shelter space. Interfaith Action is a nonprofit that has helped provide shelter for families facing homelessness while working to connect them with more stable housing and employment for the future.

"It seems like this is what God is calling us to," said Sister Cathy Steffens, who is on the leadership team for the Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph. "Our mission is 'moving always toward profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction,' so how could you not fit this into that mission?"

Steffens said the Provincial House has the potential to house 20 families with young children or about 80 people total.

"There are pieces of it that you do wonder about the divine intervention on this. It was already set up and available, it's already been furnished, we had all of the beds and all of the stuff in place just ready for somebody to use it," Viktora-Croke said. "And I think that is very inspiring for sisters to see rebirth happen in a building that is near and dear to their hearts."

The Sisters of St. Joseph hope to sign a one-year lease and then reevaluate next year to see if the space is still needed.

The city of St. Paul told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS this idea fits into the broader plan for creating more shelter space in the city.

The city has been working to clear homeless encampments during the cold winter months. The latest statistics show about 55 people still living in tents in St. Paul, compared to nearly 400 at the peak in late summer.

The city said it has been able to find safer space for a larger portion of the homeless population thanks to community partnerships that allowed the opening of new shelter spaces in places like Bethesda Hospital and the Luther Seminary dorms.

The proposal to turn the Sisters of St. Joseph convent into a shelter will go before the city's zoning committee Thursday at 3:30 p.m. The public is invited to comment on the proposal by testifying during the meeting.

The zoning committee's recommendation will go before the planning commission for a vote on Friday, March 5.

If approved, the Sisters of St. Joseph believe families could move into the building by mid-March.

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