Sunday, August 23, 2015

Preservationists Try to Sway Monks to Their Cause: Religious order wants to raze earthquake-damaged monastery building, but some Sierra Madre residents are trying to save it.

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(Mod: Just so everyone is aware, the following Los Angeles Times article was originally published in 1992.)

Preservationists Try to Sway Monks to Their Cause: Religious order wants to raze earthquake-damaged monastery building, but some Sierra Madre residents are trying to save it. In Sierra Madre, epicenter of a magnitude 5.8 temblor that rocked Southern California last year, there is now quaking of a different kind. The tiny town faces a divisive debate over the fate of a picturesque monastery nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, where the whitewashed bell tower has for decades stood like a beacon.

To the chagrin of preservationists, a dwindling order of Roman Catholic monks wants to tear down the 1920s, Spanish-style monastery, damaged three times by earthquakes and shuttered since the Sierra Madre quake in June, 1991. The monks say they have no more worldly use for the building and can ill-afford to restore the three-story structure, which far exceeds their space needs.

"Our only responsible decision is to take it down," said Father Clemente Barron, head of the Mater Dolorosa monastery and, at 49, among the youngest of the 12 Passionist Fathers who call the 75-acre retreat their home.

As the priest walked through the empty building, cracked from its red-tiled roof to its elegant sanctuary with rough-hewn beams, he said: "We're all so sad."

Local preservationists are more than sad. They're mad.

"If we have to, we'll go to the Pope," said Judy Webb-Martin, who heads the city's Cultural Heritage Commission and feverishly is calling preservationists around the country in a last-minute effort to marshal help.

The commission at first tried to block the monks by recommending that the City Council declare the monastery a historical landmark and deny their request for a demolition permit. But at a July 28 meeting, council members said they reluctantly had no choice but to deny the historical status--partly because the building is on private property owned by a religious institution and also because the monks expressed no desire to restore it.

"The council was afraid to go against the priests," said Phyllis Chapman, a heritage commission member who conducts local historical tours that feature the monastery. Barron, she said, "in a very lovely way threatened the city by saying this is private property."

In an attempt to seek a resolution, city officials requested, and Barron agreed to, a 30-day cooling-off period before applying for a demolition permit. Mayor Gary B. Adams requested the Passionist Fathers to assume a "listening posture" and remain open to alternatives.

"It didn't make a lot of sense for us to put it on the historic register if they were just going to tear it down," Adams said.

To undertake repairs and seismic work, Barron estimates, it would cost $2.2 million. But for only $160,000, he said, the building, which has 20-inch-thick walls and 45 rooms for monks, can be razed.

The dozen Passionists cannot devote the effort required for fund raising and restoration, he said. The order wants to build a smaller monastery on the grounds, where the monks also run a retreat facility popular with Catholics throughout Southern California.

Officials of the Passionists say the issue is one of conserving ever-dwindling resources.

When the 1991 quake hit, 20 Passionists were at the monastery. Since then, several moved from Southern California. In recent years, a few elderly ones have died. As with other orders, the Passionists' numbers have declined since the mid-1960s.

In a letter to the commission, Father Michael Joseph Stengal, who heads the Passionists' western U.S. province based in Chicago, left no apparent room for negotiation:

"If someone would give us $10 million so that we could restore the monastery, enhance the grounds, and even expand, we would not accept it since we do not have the priests and brothers."

Still, Adams is trying to arrange a meeting with Stengal, either in Chicago or Sierra Madre.

Despite joining the unanimous vote to deny the historical status, Adams said he is torn by the decision. "I don't think there is a single member of the City Council that wants that building removed," he said. "It's very troublesome. The monastery is part of the soul of our community.

"They claim the building isn't historic--not compared to the Vatican," Adams said. "But you don't get 400-year-old buildings if you tear them down when they are 60 and 70 years old."

The debate, partisans on both sides say, is made even more painful because the relationship has been a cordial one since the monks came to Sierra Madre in the 1920s and gathered for their first retreat under a huge Moreton bay fig tree that stands above the monastery.

For years, the monastery's red, 1935 GMC truck--driven by the beloved Brother Joe--carried a parochial school band in Fourth of July parades.

Barron said he understands the sentiment for saving the building in the tightly knit San Gabriel Valley community of 10,700 people. "We lost something very dear to us. We were taken from our home."

But those who hold steadfastly to the building, the priest said, miss his order's spiritual nature. Passionists are dedicated to helping people reflect on suffering--including that caused by earthquakes--and conquer it through the grace of God.

Like the monks, preservationists are worried about more than the building. They fear that the solitude, beauty and the historic trees may all vanish if the monastery is demolished.

Chapman and Webb-Martin say the monastery building could be restored and put to other uses, as perhaps a retirement or nursing home, or an expansion of the retreat facility.

His order, Barron said, has no desire to undertake such a project as running a nursing home and wants to be allowed to tear down the building, build a smaller one and continue to be a good neighbor.

(Mod: Link here. According to the website Meetup.com - link, here is how this story ended up. If anyone knows differently, let me know.)

In 1991 an earthquake devastated the monastery and it subsequently was demolished. In its place a beautiful Monastery Memorial Gardens was created in 1999. This area consists of the Garden of Seven Sorrows, the Plaza of the Sacred Heart, and an amphitheater. Following the earthquake, the Community lived in the former convent at Assumption Parish in Pasadena, but now have returned to live in the Retreat Center. From the Community residence, Passionists serve as the retreat team, in parishes and other ministries within the Archdiocese."

sierramadretattler.blogpsot.com

74 comments:

  1. And that is when the Passionists moved from being a place of worship to a retreat operation at the property run by a profit driven board of directors with no input from Holy Priests. It's been downhill ever since......

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    1. Father Michael Higgens spends most of his time on pitching the Monastery Development project. Just when I thought the Priests could not have fallen any further, you have them spending all their time on trying to carve up that beautiful land that previous Priests have managed to keep intact since 1924. Is it any wonder why the Catholic Church is losing followers.

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    2. The Passionists need to sell the entire land and not just the lower portion to people who will appreciate it. There are other groups out there who would be interested in it.

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    3. It seems very odd and rather sad to me that whether it was trying to preserve that old Monastery building after the earthquake or now trying to save that beautiful property it is coming from everyone other than the Priests and others associated with Mater Dolorosa. Think about that. They are are trying to demolish buildings and sell off land and here we are, trying to save them from themselves. Something is wrong here and its not with the people trying to preserve a building or save the land.

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  2. Why the money tie in? What is it used for?

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    1. They charge money (donations) for the retreats to help defray the costs of providing the experience.

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    2. Does that include what they will raise by turning pastoral lands into a housing project?

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    3. I believe most of the monies raised from the sale of the unused property will go to the archdiocese not directly to the retreat center. The suggested donation for a weekend retreat is around $220. If you're considering a retreat you should do it soon before the area is ruined forever by misguided development.

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    4. I wonder what the archdiocese needs it for.

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    5. I'm not op but as I understand it God is a bit short on cash........

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    6. I have a great respect for the Catholic Church, and admire many of the inspired and amazing people who have come from it and been a part of it for over 2,000 years.
      That said, I have never been able to satisfactorily answer the criticisms about the astonishing wealth of the Vatican. Scriptural references, "There will be poor always" and philosophical interpretations, "Isn't it best to give the most valuable things to the most important institution?" just don't make it.
      Here is an opportunity for the Vatican to save some land for both people and wildlife. They can afford to dedicate that land, and land like it all over the world, as a park.

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    7. It is interesting that they have put the 30 pieces of silver above everything else. Mater Dolorosa does not seem to care if they alienate the community, if they create strife and division - they just don't care. All they care about is funding the retirements for 63 priests even though they very recently had a successful campaign to raise money for that very purpose. The real problem is that the Board of Directors has been hijacked by developers who only care about another real estate development. You also have some like Jerry Pearson and Cam Thornton who will financially benefit from its sale. That's the problem. There's nobody up there who is opposed to selling off the land.

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    8. Once you sell off the land it is gone forever. The Huntington Library ran into some financial difficulties at one time. They could have sold off some of their land - you can imagine how valuable land would be in San Marino. But instead they had visionaries on the Board of Directors who figured out a way to retain all their land. Take a look at the beautiful Chinese gardens to see the result. The present crop of Priests know they are going out of business and so they want to get what they can for their own retirements. The Board of Directors of Mater Dolorosa is also stacked with members who work or are associated with developers.

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  3. Now I'm afraid the money will be used to hire Adele. Next thing you know, Brave Little Toasters will be popping up all over the monastery grounds.
    (And let's face it, when these Catholic priests can't even get God to back their housing project, you know it's curtains.)

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    1. I agree. Toasterization is a credible threat.

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    2. Well at their meeting they kept trying to convince us special neighbors that they would
      Completely 'control' the style of houses ! As if! It was stressed over and over to them that once the land is sold it will be slaughtered per developers liking ! That's no rocket science. But they seemed nieve and in denial
      About this. Once the money is in their pocket is all the concern. That much was obvious. Disgusting.

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    3. At some point, won't Adele Chang's record of failures here have an impact?

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    4. There should be an encyclopedia of lies developers tell.

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    5. Think about this. The owners of the land are from Chicago. The people pushing the sale from Mater Dolorosa are Jerry Pearson who lives in Arcadia, and Cam Thornton who lives in Burbank and now the head of the Board of Directors, Joe Sanders who lives somewhere - but not in Sierra Madre. They are all trying to tell Sierra Madre what's best for it. Nice try - we see right through you.

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    6. I bet the people on Sunnyside and One Carter/Grove look forward to the increased traffic from 50 homes with god knows how many occupants and visitors coming down their streets - not to mention two years of noisy grinding trucks going up and down their streets for a couple of years. If we are lucky, Sierra Madre will end up needing their first traffic lights to handle the congestion and then you will need to put quarters in the new parking meters when you visit Beantown. I say no thanks.

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  4. There seems to be a consensus all throughout the long saga here that the monastery grounds are historic and are part of the community's identity, and that the issue centers around retirement. The damaged building itself is seen as the anchor of the problem but it's not. It's about how to keep the grounds largely intact and accessible to the community, as well as providing the revenue necessary to support it, because the religious order is necessarily throwing in the towel.

    As I've suggested before, if this property became a retirement facility with structures all down the west side of the property that match the existing buildings, it could be arranged with the city (some kind of access easement) that the historic features of the grounds would be preserved and made publicly accessible. The damaged building could be replaced in the process with a structure that's compatible with the older buildings (the one there is not, it's clearly speaking its own language) and could function as a key part of the retirement complex. That's how you get the revenue to support the property, and why not have the church set aside the necessary funds to house their remaining priests until they've all moved on?

    What the community needs to do now is to get a proposal out there to the right retirement developers with ties to the church, and describe very clearly what kind of development will be permitted without a major standoff. Just fighting with these people over a resource they can't support any more doesn't make any sense.

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    1. How much money do these people need?

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    2. $10 M was not enough. Probably in the $20M to $25M range would do it.
      Why should the public have access to private property? Do you want people walking in your backyard?
      The people in the canyon don't permit hikers nor to the people who live on the last streets before the hillsides. Personally I would like it to remain undeveloped. Keep in mind that it will remain unsold to developers until there is a zone change . The water meter moratorium must also end.

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    3. 9:48 you obviously do not live on the "west side of the property" How about the east side of the property?

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    4. It will years of noise, dirt, noise and diesel fumes no matter what side of the property you live on. Don't be a chucklehead.

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    5. Once the Monastery made the decision to sell the land, they started to remove themselves from the community at large. The annual fiesta was cancelled. The gates went up and now they are an island to themselves. They are also very hostile to the neighbors on the westside who all have gates directly into the property. That was the relationship before this new breed of greedy people got empowered in there.

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    6. Even if they succeed is selling off the lower end of the property, it will only be a matter of time before they start seeing dollar signs and sell off the upper portion as well. They have lost their mission and indeed are :'throwing in the towel.". All this carnage they are willing to cause only to fund the golden retirements they now want to have. Very sad state of affairs up there.

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  5. It's true it use to be a peaceful place for all people and all were welcome. Now it's a nasty business caring primarily for the dollar . It's now A self serving institution rather than gods refuge. Evil is definitely prevailing here. And it's not just dissapointing but frightening! I'm not sure how it can be stopped ? But it really needs to be. The people of sierra madre must fight against this in unity not just for the towns sake but in Jesus's name as he would
    Expect us all to always
    Stand up in the face of evil and corruption.

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    1. LOL nobody fights in Jesus' name. Are you a Christian? The Lord expects only that you do as Jesus would to the best of your ability.

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    2. Dear lord! Are you serious! Ok Don't get stuck and on 'words ' please . I think my message is clear . Focus on the point not twisting word definitions. don't 'fight' --- STAND in unity.

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    3. Hate to say it, but I don't think most people in the religious life or out of it take Jesus' example to heart.

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    4. That's why the world is where it's at. Sad state . Especially when religious places are first to turn against gods
      Teaching and sacred land. Who can we turn to for examples ?

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    5. This thread is confusing. Why is this land any more "sacred" than any other piece of land? Why does God need a "refuge" on his Earth? Why is the Passionist community Evil? Why would Jesus want us to "stand up against perceived corruption"? 2:10 do you really think fighting is the same as standing in unity? 2:12 you are welcome to your opinions about organized religion but incorrect.2:29 I have no idea what you mean "religious places turn against gods Teaching and sacred land"?
      The Passionists mission is to "reach out with compassion to the crucified of today. We keep alive the memory of Christ’s passion through our commitment to community, prayer, ministries of the Word, and service to those who suffer. We welcome all who seek renewed life through the power of the Cross and the hope of the Resurrection" Unfortunately they do not need this beautiful field that we all love so much to achieve this mission. The money they raise is better spent on their primary mission than large plots of land. I don't think that their mission is to give to the rich (us).
      If we can provide for their mission we will prevail if not they will carry on teaching the passion of Christ.

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    6. DL, are the wildlife too rich to be considered as needing anything?

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    7. A basic tenet of Christianity tells us that any human life is more precious than any animal (wildlife). I'm no theologian btw but I did go to Sunday school 'till I was 9 years old.

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    8. 3:35 congratulations on your wealth, but you must be new to town if you think everybody else here is rich. Figure it out - drive around and look at houses and cars. It ain't all mansions and Porsches. For most of its existence this town has been working class.

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    9. There are numerous bible passages that deal with protecting the earth /land and wildlife. Educate yourself. You either get it or you don't. Any undeveloped land is sacred ! And any 'passionistas' of God should be the first to recognize this and preserve gods gift to us ! It may not be growing money trees but it is a
      Priceless gem in this day and age to have open land that isn't stacked with houses!!!!

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    10. Atleast half like me are
      House poor !

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    11. There is plenty of undeveloped sacred land in the Mojave desert perhaps you should go there and "preserve Gods sacred gift to you" ?

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    12. Land that people don't want has got its own kind of built-in protection. That's not the case at the monastery.

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    13. Yuck your comment is
      Just plain stupid and ugly. I'm trying to
      Preserve the land I live around. Doing my peice
      Because I live here. Can't save the world. Your comment is rude and ignorant .

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    14. Mohave desert! ? What kind of dumb comment is this! ? Why should I leave because passionistas want to slaughter open land I came overpayed and lived here for ? Makes
      No sense! This is juvenile commentary please show
      Some brains!

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    15. These stupid comments come from people that don't even live in town and have nothing better to do

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    16. Yea plenty of open land in Texas too. That is not the point.please ... Post only if appropriate! We are dealing with a
      Serious home matter for those that went to tkse it seriously and preserve. If others have nothing better to do but fester in nonsense please get a hobby!

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    17. Actually the issue is the years of construction noise and traffic that will accompany the building of 50 "not through the eye of a needle" houses. That is a high price for residents in that area to pay because some priests did not save properly for their retirements.

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    18. 3:35 is undoubtedly one of the Priests up there or the same guy who drove past the rally that Preserve Sierra Madre held at the gates not too long ago and shouted "The city is broke" as he drove by. I tell you these Priests have lost their way. The damage they did to not only the Catholic Church, but to religion in general from their acts against the most vulnerable among us - and you know what I mean, is so evil that I guess selling off some of their sacred land is easy for them. That land serves a purpose. It is intrinsic to the retreat experience. It gives people a place they can go to find some peace and solitude and get away from the cares of the world. It provides a home to deer, coyotes, bears, hawks and other wildlife. St. Francis must be turning over in his grave as are all the other Priests that lived up there and understood that the land up there is not "excess" land. That's insulting and despicable. Your mission up there 3:35 should be to preserve that space. You did not say one word about the money funding the retirement for the Priests. That's what you told us the money was for before. Now you are changing your story. Mater Dolorosa is suffering from something that has been with us from the beginning and will be with us for time eternal and that's called greed.

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    19. Yes I agree whole heartedly that this is someone a 'priest' trying to further defend the evil they want to be blind to. The craZiness everyone else can see but them! Acting like there is
      No reason for outrage. Please... You said it right in evil greed is taking Over ! I pray for them to find their way or atleast abandon their corrupt ways. And move elsewhere . We the innocent people of our town who wnat nothing more than to be left in peace deserve better!

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    20. Why doesn't 3:35 reveal what the Passionists "primary mission" is? Is funding the Priests retirements the primary mission of the Passionists? That's what the Passionists said in their letter. Sure its to continue their mission on other continents but the money is also being used to fund the retirement of a few score of Priests. For all we know, that's all the money is being used for unless it is going to pay legal judgments for molesting kids. I know they don't want to emphasize the retirement use for the money or to pay legal judgments if that's the case because it would be a little tough for people to swallow as they deal with all the problems resulting from a big housing project up there.

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    21. 9:06, thank you.

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  6. 9:48A-Do you mean a retirement community in general or for the priests? If it's for the priests, there aren't that many. And yes, the church is in need of money due to the pay outs for their wrong doings. There again, didn't they have insurance for thos issues? And it's not the Vatican that pays, it's the archdiocese. The Vatican, I believe, offers nothing or little to their retirees. What would have happened to them long ago if they had had to pay taxes? That huge property and the gift of no taxes! It has always been a part of this community. The rural aspect of it is what is its beauty. It needs to be saved from development.

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  7. 9:48 here. It should be sold to a retirement community developer who will be bound by a development agreement handled by the city when the church sells the property. This agreement could have a public access easement as a condition of the sale, as well as specifying how the property would be developed. The church could place its retirees here just like anybody else, perhaps subsidize the payment or make a lump sum deal. It's a 3-party negotiation that would take some work and a few lawyers, but Development Agreements are common tools in larger cities like Pasadena. They capture public benefit for limited right to development and revenue return.

    An endless fight over this property will only result in its eventual sale to an inappropriate developer, as you all can see very clearly.

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    1. 11:17, you make it sound like a reasonable solution, but the devil is in the details. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems:
      1) Developers lie
      2) Never trust developers because they lie.

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    2. Mater Dolorosa needs to sell off the entire property and not just the lower 22 acres. If you read their own brochure it talks about what all the land means to the experience up there and not just the upper portion. That land is not "excess" land, its very important to the experience up there. If you want to monetize everything, we should sell off Memorial Park. I bet that land would be worth alot of money as one giant housing project. Fortunately, people see the value of having open space.

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  8. Priests in Southwestern Nova Scotia are still saying mass at the age of 80 and 90 far past retirement age because there are no young men entering the priesthood. And small community churches are being closed due to dwindling congragations. One of the biggest expenses is heating oil to keep the pipes and elderly worshipers from freezing. No money for this a the donation plate is reached for by fewer hands.

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  9. At a meeting with the developers and Pearson, it was suggested to build a retirement facility for the order on that land. They said it would not pencil out.

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    1. Of course not, the facility would have to be open to all clients, with perhaps a break for the priests. Another decade or so and the whole issue is moot. Revenue depends upon clients from the community and local region, which would be a draw for residents because then they get a small part of ownership of the existing grounds and its special character. They would be part of its preservation and wouldn't have to relocate out of their own community.

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  10. Why are priests retiring without remembering their vows?

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    1. I wasn't aware they were,I assume you have it from a good source? Ask one if you really wanna know.

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    2. They need a few million for each member of their dwindling population...living on the rough is not for them.

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    3. Can't we just offer them pigs and sheep like the peasants did during the dark ages?

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    4. It would be a huge mistake to carve up that land. Sell it to a group that will appreciate it. The Self-Realization fellowship is not selling off their land. Visit some of their beautiful grounds some time. They aren't selling their assets off because they don't see that "asset" only in financial terms. They have stayed true to their mission. That is why they continue to flourish.

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  11. 4:19 The Catholic church is a global enterprise the average "adjusted" worldwide income is $1500.00 a month in purchasing power dollars (which seems to high to me) yes we are quite rich. And I've been here 62 years since you asked

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    1. Right, the Vatican does not have countless treasures and incalculable wealth.

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  12. @4:29 Hmm vacant land more important than feeding the needy what religion is that again? I hope your God provides a bit more to those in need vacant land.

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    1. Most lawyers are not needy. In my opinion you are not telling the truth. OK?

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    2. Hey 4:54. the money is being used at least partly and perhaps mainly to pay for some pretty luxurious retirements for the Priests themselves. Please don't leave that out when you talk about it being used for the "needy".

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  13. Nuns live together in homes within the community, as a community. They work til they die and they care for one another in hospice, in the home. These men are sadly sending the message that they are superior to women, when, indeed they need the guidance from the new pope who has given up worldy goods and walks quite seriously in the feet of Jesus who cared about the poor, the sick and please remember Jesus' best friend was Mary Magadelene, he took care of women accused as being prostitutes, and he showed us compassion and equality.
    All I see/hear from these passionists ( not all of them) is greed.
    Have they forgotten the seriousness of the vows they took?

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    1. Great post 5:02. Thanks

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    2. So you think the guy Jesus whose best friend was Mary Magdalene, he took care of women accused as being prostitutes, and he showed us compassion and equality. Should protect a field for our amusement rather than care for the needy. And Sisters make up 82% of retirees in the Catholic church if you would like some facts

      http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2006-07-27-retiring-nuns_x.htm

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    3. Oh thanks for clearing that up 6:33. So the retirement fund for the Passionist Fathers is going to support nuns? That's good news.

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    4. Malarkey. It is going to play for legal costs and lawyers. And settlements.

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    5. I cannot believe that 6:33 doesn't recognize the value of that land. I'm not talking about the monetary value either. To "protect the land for our own amusement". Is that really what you see in that vista with the deer and the coyotes and the feeling the people get as they drive up the roadway. I know that you are either a Priest or you are a lay person affiliated with Mater Dolorosa. Your disregard for the spiritual value of that "excess" land shows how far the Catholic Church and its Priests have fallen. Read your own frigging brochure describing the benefits of the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center experience. Read your own words that describe that property. You want the money for your own retirements. This is not about helping the poor. You guys admitted as much on many occasions. This money is to be used for the retirements of 63 priests even though Father Pat had a successful campaign as late as November of 2013 to raise money for that very purpose. Its called greed when its never enough.

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  14. The Pope, the most catholic of all, weighs in on this:

    But the pope is just as radical, given current reality, when he insists on beauty over ugliness. When he demands the protection from development of “those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of ‘feeling at home’ within a city which includes us and brings us together,” he is not just celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/aug/13/pope-and-planet/

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  15. This whole thing depresses me and haunts me to no end. This ugly mess is clearly chNging what the town use to be ... Hate to think what's next !

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