The White Plains Examiner

Good Counsel Courts Potential Buyers for 16-Acre Campus

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Aerial view of the Good Counsel 16-acre propety.
Aerial view of the Good Counsel 16-acre propety.

The religious order of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion announced its intention last week to seek potential buyers for its 16-acre campus located at 52 North Broadway, White Plains.

The property, which houses the Roman Catholic order’s mother house and main administrative offices, a conference center and convent, is also the home of Our Lady of Good Counsel Academy High School and Elementary School, the Chapel of the Divine Compassion, the Mapleton House with professional offices and the RDC Counseling Center.

Several of the buildings on the site are of particular historic significance to the Sisters as well as the White Plains community. The Chapel of the Divine Compassion built of stone and designed in a Celtic fashion houses the founders of the religious order Mary Dannat Starr (later Mother Mary Veronica) and Monsignor Thomas Preston, who are buried in the chapel crypt along with past leaders of the order.

The entire complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 25, 1997, with the help of the White Plains Historical Society and its president at that time, Jack Harrington.

The property contains 12 buildings comprising 162,180 square feet and resides within the RM-1.5 residential multi-family zoning district of White Plains in which residential housing and a convent are listed as permitted principal uses. Special permits are required for any private school use, philanthropy or professional office space.

The property does not lie within the Central Parking District of White Plains, putting it outside the downtown, but within the fringe where low-rise building construction is permitted.

In an interview with the current president of the White Plains Historical Society, Robert Hoch, The White Plains Examiner learned that listing on the National Register of Historic Places is not a 100 percent guarantee of protection, but it does maintain that any changes to the buildings could only be done on the inside.

“Because White Plains does not have its own historic preservation law, outside agencies at the state and federal level would be asked to look at any proposed projects. But the city would conduct its own environmental review,” Hoch explained.

The Mapleton House recently received grants for permitted renovations to portions of its exterior.

The Chapel of the Divine Compassion is a historical landmark which contains a crypt housing the founders of the order of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion as well as former leaders of the order.
The Chapel of the Divine Compassion is a historical landmark which contains a crypt housing the founders of the order of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion as well as former leaders of the order.

The original property purchased in 1890 once housed Good Counsel College. Those buildings now form the core of the Pace Law School campus, which merged with the Sisters of the Divine Compassion in 1977 and shares the front entrance and traffic circle within the Good Counsel property.

Geoff Thompson, of public relations firm Thompson & Bender, spokesman for the Sisters, told The White Plains Examiner on Friday that the intention of the Sisters at this time is to determine what level of interest there might be in the property as a whole or specific portions. “They are looking at value. To do that the property must be listed,” Thompson said.

CBRE Group, Inc., under the guidance of William Cuddy, has been retained to determine interest and market the property.

Thompson also noted that several members of the White Plains community had been gathered together to discuss the potential future of the property, though he would not give names, Thompson did say that Cuddy, also a White Plains resident, was not a member of that group.

During a 10-year in-depth analysis and strategic planning process with a review to their future survival, the Sisters had considered the sale of a lower athletic field at the back of the property but where stymied by the discovery of toxic contaminants in the soil.

Considering that one of their primary assets was the real estate on which the campus sits, and not wanting to pursue relocation options, portions of the main convent building recently were renovated to house The Mapleton Conference Center.

Sister Carol Wagner, RDC, President of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion, stated in a press release that the Sisters intention was to continue their mission and ministries throughout the region. “At the same time, to assure that we continue our mission and that we are able to provide for the Sisters particularly in their later years, upon careful reflection and thorough analysis we are actively researching and exploring the possible sale of the property,” Wagener said.

Wagner further noted that the future of the Good Counsel Schools is a particular concern. The announcement of consideration to sell the property falls just one week short of the school’s graduation on June 7 and has caused a flurry of emails and Facebook discussion among parents of students and alumnae about the possible dissolution of “the nest” as one concerned alumna stated in an email.

Over the weekend Laura Donovan, RDC, Good Counsel Academy High School Principal and Sr. Imma De Stefanis, RSCJ, President of the school’s board of directors issued their own statement: “In light of the recent announcement, …Good Counsel Academy High School reaffirms that it is open and at full capacity.Good Counsel enrolls 400-plus students, proudly graduates 73 seniors next week and prepares to welcome 90 freshmen in the fall. We will continue to operate a full academic and extracurricular program.”

The statement further noted that CBRE had also been asked to assist in identifying potential future locations for Good Counsel Academy High School should the need arise beyond the 2014-2015 academic year.

In 2012, Good Counsel Academy welcomed with open arms students from Our Lady of Victory Academy, Dobbs Ferry, when that school was forced to close due to declining enrollment, changing demographics, the rising cost of education and the current economy, according to an announcement by the school’s sponsor.

At the 52 North Broadway campus 24 Sisters remain in residence, 58 live in other convents near the areas where they are in ministry. There are also 75 lay associates and companions to the Sisters of the Divine Compassion who take part in several ministries that include the academies, social work, counseling, religious education, healthcare and pastoral care at more than 40 schools, parishes and agencies across Westchester.

The founding mission of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion began in 1870, when Mary Starr opened the House of the Holy Family in lower Manhattan. Abandoned and abused young girls living in poverty on the streets of NYC were welcomed into a family-like setting which provided compassion and empowerment, education, healing and love, helping the girls to heal and grow, and move on into independent and productive lives. In 1886, the Sisters of the Divine Compassion Religious Institute was founded to support and continue the Mission of Compassion into the future.



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