Neumann Senior Housing receives grant to refurbish its historic chapel

March 29, 2018

The Presby-managed community in Philadelphia’s Fishtown section received a generous grant to rehab its shuttered chapel, much to the residents’ delight.

Nestled in the tight, bustling streets of Philadelphia’s resurgent Fishtown neighborhood sits the St. Mary’s Hospital building, recognized by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a historical site, and, within it, its venerable chapel.

Closed as a functional hospital in the 2000s, the building was eventually rehabbed and now is home to Neumann Senior Housing, a community managed by Presby’s Inspired Life that includes 65 units of HUD-PRAC affordable housing for seniors 62 and better.

The chapel is among the most unique features a Presby community has to offer. Neumann is only one of two affordable housing communities with a chapel for its residents. The other is South Philadelphia’s St. John Neumann Place, site of the closed St. John Neumann High School.

In recent years, the chapel, located on Neumann’s third floor, has fallen into disrepair as storms, roof leaks and general weathering, among other nature issues, have taken their toll to the point the chapel remains locked and residents can’t access it as they could at one time.

That won’t be the story for much longer.

Neumann was recently awarded a $30,516 grant by the Penn Treaty Special Services District and Sugarhouse Casino to rehab the chapel and its sacristy. Work will begin in the coming weeks and is expected to last about a month.

“We’ve just been really blessed that we’ve been able to get the grant to go in and fix the damage up on the roof,” Neumann building manager Tracy Richardson said.

The residents of Neumann were the driving force behind earning this grant.

They gathered to tell stories of peace and tranquility they have experienced in the chapel in the past and to give witness to the integral role the chapel plays in their community. The deep personal meaning of the chapel dates back, for some, to the days they welcomed their children into the world.

“Many a time I spent in the chapel, just by myself, sitting in the back,” said resident Barbara Becker, who used to work at St. Mary’s Hospital and gave birth to all five of her children at the hospital. “It was just so peaceful. It was just between you and God. When my husband and I had the opportunity to move here, I couldn’t believe I was on the third floor where the chapel is located. I used to go in there and I would just sit down for a few minutes and say a few prayers. I miss that. I feel this is a godsend.”

“The chapel means a lot to me, but it means a lot especially to the residents who may not be able to get out and go to mass,” said resident Bernie Zotter. “Even though we currently have mass here, it’s just not the same as it would be in the chapel. I think everyone is happy that we have the grant and we can go back to the chapel. It’s more serene. Our choir is going to sound great there!”

“When I had my kids here, I would go down to the chapel and I’d go there when my stepfather was here before he passed,” said resident Phyllis McGrath. “When I moved in here, I went to the chapel, too. You go in and it’s just so calm. You just sit there and don’t have to worry about a thing.”

The grant application requires organizations to give a detailed presentation as to why the funding is so important. Tracy and two residents made the presentation on Neumann’s behalf. And Tracy feels the residents’ heartfelt testimonies helped make a difference.

Without them, the dream of a refurbished chapel may not be a reality.

“I can do as much as I want to try and help this building, but I don’t live here. The residents live here.” Tracy said. “Though it means as much to me, I know the residents enjoy the building and care about where they live. This is who you’re helping. These are the people it’s impacting.

“I’m so proud of the residents for the things they had to say and the things they felt. They live here. And they respect where they live. You can’t ask for much more.”

The chapel isn’t just for the residents. It’s also for Presby team members and everyone who walks through Neumann’s doors.

It’s a sanctuary for those of all faiths who need time to disconnect from the stress of everyday life and reconnect with their faith.

“The chapel is a place not only that the residents go, but I’ve gone there several times,” Neumann administrative assistant Linetta Dennis-Ramsey said. “You can go there and you can just sit and think, meditate, read, pray, do whatever you want to do. With the chapel not being accessible at this moment, it makes you want to go there even more. But we’re going to be able to there again. And it means so much that it’s going to be open to all of us!”