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Neumann University agrees to acquire buildings, land from Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia

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An aerial photo of the Neumann University campus in Aston, Pa.

ASTON, Pa.Neumann University has agreed to acquire several historic properties and land from the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in a move that will nearly double the footprint of the Catholic university in Delaware County. The transaction was signed on June 30 and includes Our Lady of Angels Motherhouse Convent, St. Elizabeth House, two residential homes and nearly 63 acres of land.

The agreement includes sacred spaces, most notably Our Lady of Angels Cemetery, and iconic statues and symbols, Neumann said in a press release. The university has vowed to preserve this land and items.

According to the school, the acquisition will allow Neumann to accommodate future growth and enhance all aspects of its mission. Its new master plan calls for the transformation of the campus over a 15-year period. Highlights include a welcoming entryway and pedestrian-only zone at the heart of the campus. There also will be a new student center, ice rink, events center and student residences.

As many as 60 students are expected to move into one wing of the convent during the upcoming academic year, and that number will grow to 120 over a three-year period.

Neumann president Chris Domes called the agreement a “win-win” for the university and the Sisters of St. Francis. It will allow the university to improve its residential experience and expand its extracurricular programs and athletics.

“Equally important,” Domes noted, “it preserves and extends the university’s commitment to a faith-based Catholic, Franciscan education and our ongoing partnership with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The motherhouse, which includes Our Lady of Angels Chapel, and the sacred spaces are integral to our mission and identity.”

At their height in 1958, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia had 1,600 members serving in schools, health care and social services. The congregation now numbers about 360 sisters in 19 states, Ireland and Africa, with a median age of 82. Approximately 35 sisters will continue to live in the convent.

“Though bittersweet in many ways, this transaction allows us to focus solely on our mission and ministries,” said Sister Kathy Dougherty, outgoing congregational minister for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. “Frankly, we’ve reached a point at which we no longer needed or could justify owning these facilities and this land.”

“Our sisters did not join this community because of a building or a parcel of land. They came to serve. Moving forward, we wanted to make sure that we could sustain our mission and support the ministries we have established over the years. Neumann is the perfect fit to carry our legacy forward. We are thrilled about that. It’s a true blessing.”

The closing on the transaction is expected to occur as soon as Aug. 30. The acquisition will take place gradually over time. The sisters will lease office and residential space in the convent until at least 2030. They will maintain ownership of Assisi House, Red Hill Farm, Clare House and the Hermitages.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia founded Neumann University, then called Our Lady of Angels College, in 1965 with 115 female students. Today, Neumann educates 2,500 students annually and is one of the largest employers in Aston Township.