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Motherhouse of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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1931–1932, D. A. Bohlen and Son; 1940 chapel; 2000–2003 renovation and rehabilitation, Susan Maxman and Partners (SMP) and Kessler/Francis/Cardoza; Rolf Sauer and Partners, landscape architects. 610 W. Elm Ave.

The huge, three-and-a-half-story on a raised foundation, E-shaped motherhouse was built for the novices and professed sisters of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious order that numbered over one thousand sisters who taught in ninety-eight parochial schools. The Art Deco building contained the novitiate, the chapel, the professed sisters' quarters, and the infirmary. Extending to the north at the center is the gem of the interior, the IHM Chapel of 1939–1940. At the apex of the motherhouse and the academy, and connecting the two, is the dining hall and kitchen, fronted by a shed-roofed passage. A marble sculpture of Mary, displayed in a limestone statuary niche, stands at the juncture of the two buildings and acts as a catalyst to unify the whole.

In 2000, the retired sisters living at the motherhouse were aging, and were fewer than 250 in number. Believing sustainability a moral mandate for the twenty-first century, the sisters decided to renovate their outdated residence rather than rebuild while creating a model for sustainable living—not surprising for an order known for social activism and teaching. The result is an education and conference center and an assisted living residence planned and executed to meet the immediate aging and health care needs of the occupants, and, in twenty years, to pass on as an attractive living space adaptable for someone else.

The project transformed the 376,000-square-foot facility from its 1932 dormitory configuration to a 240-bed retirement and health care center for the sisters. The renovation reused wood windows, wood doors, marble windowsills, and period light fixtures that were retrofitted with energy-efficient light. On the 280-acre campus site were constructed wetlands for a gray water flushing system to reduce freshwater consumption by more than 50 percent. Vegetated swales and wet meadows prevent nearly a million gallons of water a year from entering the local storm sewer system. A ground source geothermal field of 232 holes containing a 54-mile circulation loop assists heating and cooling. In 2006 the U.S. Green Building Council awarded the renovated motherhouse LEED certification in the new construction and renovation category.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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