Reprieve: Angel Guardian nuns cancel senior center’s early eviction following protest

Reprieve: Angel Guardian nuns cancel senior center’s early eviction following protest
Community News Group / Julianne McShane

The Sisters of Mercy lived up to its name — and bowed to loud public backlash — by backing down on the early eviction of the Narrows Senior Center from the Angel Guardian home.

The nuns who sold the sprawling former orphanage in Dyker Heights gave up their plan to evict the seniors months before the end of their lease after the oldsters rallied with local pols on Feb. 2 to protest their imminent ousting. The Sisters will now allow the senior center to stay in the building until June 4 — when its lease ends — and the organizer of the rally said she felt vindicated that the nuns wouldn’t be kicking them to the curb in the freezing February temperatures.

“At least we got until June,” said senior Pauline Castagna. “The goal that I was hoping for with the rally was to have the seniors be able to stay until the summer.”

A group of the center’s seniors gathered outside the 63rd Street entrance of the city-block-sized campus bound by 12th and 13th avenues on the day they were originally supposed to leave to protest the Sisters’ secret sale of the 119-year-old building, which is forcing the center’s move to a Borough Park basement a mile away that many of the seniors consider inferior.

The seniors carried signs condemning the Sisters, such as “Sisters have no mercy for our elderly,” “money talks — seniors are out,” and “these majestic buildings must be saved.” One stalwart of the center said the nuns’ sale of the property to a mystery developer who does not plan to keep the center or include affordable senior housing in the space shows the Sisters are greedy.

“The Sisters want to take over this place and throw us out,” said Jean Detorre. “Money is all they’re interested in. They don’t care about the senior citizens.”

Another elder who has been attending the center since it opened in 2003 said the nuns were making a moral mistake by kicking out the oldsters.

“It’s not the right thing to do,” said Paul Pandolfo. “This is a second home for us.”

Local pols — including councilmen Justin Brannan (D–Bay Ridge) and Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park), state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), and Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Bensonhurst) — joined the seniors in condemning the Sisters. Abbate said the seniors should not have to vacate their space, and that the nuns weren’t living up to the Sisters of Mercy’s values.

“The seniors deserve this,” Abbate said. “Those nuns who are there today are a disgrace to this order.”

Golden concurred, vowing to stand by the seniors as they fought to stay.

“It isn’t right for our Narrows seniors, and we’re not going to take it,” Golden said.

Menchaca, the councilman who represents the district, said he and neighboring Brannan — who has come out swinging against the Sisters — would work together to save the center.

“We want to save this senior center,” Menchaca said. “They need to listen to us.”

Brannan first publicly castigated the Sisters last month in his inaugural appearance on Brooklyn Paper Radio, saying that the nuns were “giving our neighborhood the finger as they leave.”

At the Friday protest, he led the seniors in chants of “Save Our Center” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go,” and later said in a statement that the Sisters were further insulting locals by keeping terms of the sale secret.

“We don’t even know who is buying the property or what they plan to do with it,” Brannan said. “[The Sisters of Mercy] are spitting in the face of this community.”

After the Sisters sold the property at the end of last year to an unknown developer who plans to include “some affordable housing and public space,” the nuns told the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens — which operates the senior center — that it had to vacate the property in 60 days, by Feb. 2. But within two weeks of our sister publication the Bay Ridge Courier publishing the news, the nuns offered the seniors a one-month grace period, allowing them to stay through March 4.

Then, immediately following the Feb. 2 rally, Catholic Charities issued a statement that the nuns offered a verbal agreement allowing the seniors to stay through May 15. And within two hours, Catholic Charities received verbal confirmation from the Sisters that the seniors could stay through the lease’s original termination date of June 4, according to spokeswoman Lucy Garrido-Mota, who added that its legal team was finalizing paperwork.

The Sisters of Mercy did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Castagna, who organized the rally, vowed to continue the fight to stay in the building forever — though she admitted that may prove difficult, since the developer will likely bulldoze it.

“It’s gonna be a little difficult to stay forever if they sell the buildings. How can we stay?” she said. “But we’ll do our best.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.