BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) — A former monastery left vacant when the last nuns moved out has gone on the market for over $3 million, and now Barrington officials are seeking to buy the property.
With their numbers dwindling, the final six Roman Catholic sisters of the Discalced Carmelite order last year decided to vacate the location on Watson Avenue where they had lived a cloistered life of prayer since 1957.
“It’s really the only option available to us at this time,” one of the six, Sister Sue Lamb, told the Rhode Island Catholic in October. “We’ve lost about 14 sisters over the past few decades, some to death and some to nursing homes,” she added.
The nuns’ departure freed up a 7.16-acre property along Narragansett Bay in a neighborhood where nearby homes are assessed at over $1 million.
Chain links are now blocking the parking lot in front of the old monastery’s nearly 25,000-square-foot building where visitors used to park to attend Mass at its on-site chapel. It appears little landscaping is being done, though a prominent statute of the Virgin Mary still stands out front and other religious symbols remain in place.
The real-estate firm Lila Delman put the site on the market in May with an asking price of $3.5 million. “Developers/Builders take notice!” the listing says. “Many possibilities with this property.” (The town assesses the old monastery’s land at $2.1 million and its building at $3.1 million.)
Town Manager James Cunha said it’s the biggest parcel of land to come on the market in Barrington in at least five years.
“In Barrington we do not have a lot of open space, and buildable space is very difficult to come by — especially spaces that are as attractive as that,” Cunha told 12 News.
The property is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which operated a summer camp at the location before the bishop invited the nuns to move there in the mid-1950s since they were outgrowing their original home in Newport. The Barrington tax assessor’s online database suggests the diocese has owned the site since at least 1894.
Diocesan spokesperson Michael Kieloch told 12 News in an email, “Now that the Carmelites have decided to move on, the proceeds of selling the property will largely help fund the much-needed structural work to the towers of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Providence (work on which is just starting), and a portion of the proceeds will also support the Catholic Charities ministries.”
Kieloch also confirmed that the diocese has already “received several offers for the property” since it went on the market.
Cunha is hoping the town itself will be the buyer. He and other Barrington leaders are eyeing the property as a place to build new affordable or senior housing, whereas he said a private developer would likely use it to build seven or eight “large beachfront-type homes” instead.
“I would look at small homes, townhouses, that type of thing, where we can maximize the amount of space appropriately,” Cunha said, calling it “an excellent opportunity to get some attractive property.”
Voters will have their say on Wednesday night at Barrington High School, where the agenda for a financial town meeting includes authorizing up to $3.5 million in general-obligation bond money to pay for purchase of the monastery, as well as $250,000 in funding to finance the transaction.
Cunha said he received a letter Monday from Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin that made him “very hopeful” about the town’s chances of purchasing the land, and he expects the diocese to make a decision in about a week.
While Kieloch declined to confirm that timeline, he said a decision would be made “soon.”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook