Neumann University has reached an agreement to purchase the adjacent convent and 63-acre property of its founding order, which will nearly double the size of its Delaware County campus.
The Catholic university in Aston will use some of the convent immediately for student living space and has plans over the next 15 years to add a student center, ice rink, and track and field, Neumann president Chris Domes said. The convent will also become the main administrative hub, freeing up space in academic buildings, he said.
Neumann has had a dorm-room waiting list for some time, Domes said, and has been renting apartments and hotel space, in some cases putting as many as three students in a room ― not something the university intends to continue post-pandemic. The college, which currently has 600 residential students, plans for 60 students to move into the convent over the next academic year and 120 over three years.
“It gives us the capacity to take all of our residential facilities back onto the campus and allows us to create the opportunity for anyone who wants to live here,” Domes said.
Neither Neumann nor the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia would disclose the sale price. Under the agreement, which is expected to be finalized as soon as Aug. 30, the 38 sisters currently living there will have the option of remaining through 2030.
The Sisters of St. Francis founded Neumann, which was then called Our Lady of Angels College, in 1965. At one time, as many as 120 sisters lived in the 152,000-square-foot convent, built in the late 1800s. At its peak more than six decades ago, the order had about 1,600 sisters. Now it’s down to 360, living in 19 states, Ireland, and Africa, with a median age of 82.
“We’ve reached a point at which we no longer needed or could justify owning these facilities and this land,” Sister Kathy Dougherty, the order’s outgoing congregational minister, said in a statement.
While many colleges are bracing for a further drop in high school graduates expected in the next five years, Dome said he sees the potential for Neumann, which currently enrolls 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students, to grow. It’s not the only small Catholic college that has added property in recent years. Gwynedd Mercy University doubled the size of its campus by purchasing an adjacent property from Merck & Co. in 2018.
Domes said the area of the convent that will be used for dorm space is ready for student occupancy. The order had been using it to bring people in from outside for spiritual retreats, he said.
The sale also includes the order’s St. Elizabeth House, a two-story residential facility and office building, two residential homes also owned by the sisters, and Our Lady of Angels Cemetery, which the college has promised to preserve. The order will maintain ownership of Red Hill Farm, Clare House, the Hermitages, and Assisi House, the retirement facility for the sisters.