SJC Brooklyn’s Sister Marie Mackey, C.S.J, and Sister Nancy Gilchriest, S.S.N.D., Ed.D., are leading an effort to restore a 70-year-old convent on the grounds of the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, Queens.
The spacious 22-bedroom convent, which is being restored with the help of SJC Brooklyn student volunteers, will transform into a space where young adults and religious can live together, sharing prayers, meals and chores. S. Marie plans to use eight to 10 rooms for living quarters, converting the rest into retreat space. S. Marie and S. Nancy — they attended SJC Brooklyn together in the 80s — will be among the women religious living there.
“When I have taken students on retreat pre-COVID, I’ve had to go 90-minutes away, plus the transportation costs for that, plus the retreat centers that still exist are quite expensive,” said S. Marie, director of Campus Ministry at SJC Brooklyn. “We don’t have a lot of money in the budget for those kinds of programs, and I know that college students mostly pay their own way.”
The retreat space would be accessible to SJC Brooklyn and SJC Long Island students.
S. Marie first approached S. Nancy about the idea in August 2020; construction began in the winter.
“I am looking forward to the opportunity to live in community,” said S. Nancy, associate professor and chair of St. Joseph’s education department. “As a School Sister of Notre Dame, when we profess our vows, we say our vows in community — so we recognize to be a nun it’s more than just professing gospel, poverty, apostolic obedience, consecrated celibacy, but rather it’s the community that supports us to be able to live this religious life.”
Getting SJC Brooklyn Students Involved in Convent Restorations
To restore the convent, Srs. Marie and Nancy are getting some help from SJC Brooklyn Honors Program students. The students are pitching in with yardwork, painting, cleaning the interior, and with other miscellaneous work.
Jonathan Oca, a junior psychology major, and Om Prakash Shah, a sophomore computer science major, became quick friends while volunteering at the convent on a sunny Saturday afternoon in April.
“S. Marie gave me a list of work she needed me to do that day, so Jonathan and I worked together, starting with raking the leaves in the front yard of the building,” Shah recalled. “After that, we swept the front of the building, and then moved on to mowing the grass in the backyard of the building. We also moved boxes and enjoyed lunch with S. Marie.”
Shah and Oca said they enjoyed volunteering at the convent and learning about its rich history from S. Marie.
“It felt nice to get out of my space and to do something that helped others,” Oca said. “Doing something to do it and not having a specific goal or reward — that felt good.”