NEW LOCATION: THE CATHEDRAL CONVENT IN ALBANY
NEW LOCATION: THE CATHEDRAL CONVENT IN ALBANY

“Some problems are good problems to have, that was the situation I found myself in this past year with the St. Isaac Jogues House of Discernment in Watervliet,” Rev. Anthony Ligato just wrote in a diocesan newsletter on vocations.

Father Ligato is diocesan vicar for vocations and pastor of St. Jude parish in Wynantskill and St. Michael’s in Troy. His dilemma: The number of men in formation for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese had outgrown the available space at the former St. Brigid’s Church rectory in Watervliet, where they were living.

Seven men were boarding in the house on 5th Avenue while they discerned a vocation or took pre-theology courses in preparation to enter the seminary. St. Isaac Jogues House has six bedrooms — and one belonged to Rev. L. Edward Deimeke, retired pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Watervliet, who monitors community life in the house.

A third-floor room had to be divided up with a privacy curtain. “It was not perfect, but it served the purpose,” Father Ligato said.

The room being used as a chapel didn’t fit all the men who needed to pray in it, either — up to a dozen at a time.

“The chapel would have been a front office or living room in the original rectory,” Father Ligato explained.

The group had gotten too big for the building, which is owned by Immaculate Heart of Mary parish — and the program was still growing. The Diocese has had an increase in vocations in recent years, with 18 current seminarians and another dozen “aspirants:” men who are in the process of discerning whether to move forward toward priesthood. Fourteen men were expected to live at St. Isaac Jogues House in the coming year.

Finding a new home for St. Isaac Jogues House was a tall order. It had to be bigger and centrally located in the Diocese, with enough bedrooms, a large chapel and dining room, and community rooms suitable for meetings.

Rev. David LeFort, vicar general of the Diocese and rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, found an answer: the cathedral convent.

Located at 93 Park Avenue in Albany, the convent is next door to Bishop Maginn High School and around the corner from the cathedral. It was built to house 18 Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, but only four were still living there, and they were willing to relocate.

“It’s good for the parish,” noted Sister Kathleen Eagan, CSJ, one of the four, along with Sisters Honora Kinney, Marlene Castle and Francine Dempsey.

She has a point: The new location for St. Isaac Jogues House will offer the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception service from the men in discernment. They’ll minister as sacristans at liturgies, work in the parish food pantry (housed in the convent’s basement) and pitch in at Bishop Maginn High and at nearby St. Charles Lwanga Center for homeless men, St. John’s/St. Ann’s Outreach Center and elsewhere.

Father Ligato spoke of a “myriad of opportunities” and “visibility in the community.”

Father LeFort is equally enthusiastic about the move. He said the Diocese will benefit from seeing right from the start whether potential priests have what it takes to be servant leaders.

The new St. Isaac Jogues House can house 18 men. It has a chapel with stained-glass windows that can seat up to 40 people, a large room for formation sessions, a kitchen and dining room that can serve 25 to 30 people for dinner, and available parking.

“The size would accommodate our needs going well into the future,” Father Ligato said.

Those needs include more than just priestly vocations. The new St. Isaac Jogues House will offer the Diocese’s diaconate program enough room for retreats — 16 men are currently in formation to become permanent deacons — and meeting space for other vocations gatherings.

Father Ligato sees the house becoming a “center for all vocations awareness” in the Diocese. As before, Father Deimeke will be the priest in residence.

Work is about to begin to update plumbing and flooring, paint the building and install new air conditioners. Father LeFort told The Evangelist that all of the renovations will be covered by funds raised through the cathedral’s participation in the diocesan Re-Igniting Our Faith campaign. The cathedral will also receive rental income for the use of the building.

According to Deacon Al Manzella, parish life director for IHM in Watervliet, the former St. Isaac Jogues House will be sold by the parish. “It’s a mile from Immaculate Heart of Mary — geographically not close,” he explained. “We have, across the street, a former convent that we use for faith formation, and the [former] school was converted to a parish hall.”

The sisters living in the convent that’s becoming the new St. Isaac Jogues House are moving to various forms of senior housing. Sister Marlene Castle has already moved to St. Joseph’s Provincial House in Latham.

“When I took over vocations in 2013, we had just reopened St. Isaac Jogues House, because it had closed the year before, but that particular year we had three men who were going to need to live in the house,” Father Ligato recalled. “I would never have expected we would outgrow what we had.”

The new St. Isaac Jogues House of Discernment is expected to officially open in October.