Mount St. Mary’s to be ‘deconstructed’

The deconstruction of Mount St. Mary’s may begin at the end of the summer. The Congregation of the Sister of St. Joseph wants to find uses for nearly all of the building materials. (Advance photo)

The sun is setting on the iconic Mount St. Mary’s edifice.

Its four fluted columns, its bricks, and beams that hold countless stories of Sisters of St. Joseph working to further the kingdom of God won’t be lost forever, they’ll be disbursed to bless the community in other ways.

The Congregation of St. Joseph is describing the decision as a deconstruction rather than a demolition, according to Eileen Biehl, director of Communications for the Congregation.

Decision longtime coming

“The discernment about Mount St. Mary’s has been a long time coming,” she said. “We actually have had two previous tenants in the building since the sisters moved out. All our sisters have moved into the newer buildings on the other side of Mount St. Mary’s.”

The tenants, one of which was Catholic Charities, used the building for a period of time, she said, but both eventually found the building insufficient for their needs.

The Congregation’s decision was based on a desire to be environmentally responsible, to limit their carbon footprint, and to be good stewards of their resources, Biehl said. “The sisters determined that deconstruction was the most responsible option and it best served our sisters, our ministries, and our mission.”

Constructed in 1915

The 60,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1915, and a newer building east of it will be removed. The goal is to find uses for 98 percent of the buildings.

Biehl said a timeframe hasn’t been set but estimates that work may begin at the end of the summer.

“Deconstruction takes a lot more time and there’s a lot more pieces,” she said. “We have a company that we’ve worked with at some of our other locations. They use local bidders and local contractors. The job will be open for bids, depending on what people want to repurpose and remove from the building. It’s a pretty complicated process, but we chose deconstruction because we don’t want to add to landfills.”

No wrecking ball

Instead of a pile of debris from a wrecking ball, she said, once work is underway passersby will see piles of bricks and other materials in various locations for sorting.

Biehl said despite the change in the physical landscape, the spiritual landscape is untouched. “We are very proud of our heritage in Wichita,” she said. “The sisters are very much a presence in that Hilltop neighborhood. Nothing about that is changing. Our sisters are definitely living there and will continue to live there. And we want to continue to be a vibrant part of Hilltop and the Wichita community.:

Building was completed in 1915

Mount St. Mary’s was completed in 1915. According to the Sept. 13, 1913, Catholic Advance, it replaced a building purchased in 1899 by Bishop J.J. Hennessy known as the Wichita University. It was destroyed by a fire on Sept. 7, 1913.

The article states that 26 sisters and 20 orphans who lived in the building escaped without injury. The fire started in the attic, probably because of a defective flue near the roof.

The new building, the current Mount St. Mary’s, took 18 months to build and was dedicated by Bishop Hennessy on Feb. 11, 1915.

The Diocese of Wichita was not involved with the Congregation’s decision.