DANVILLE — While some details on the proposed transportation of 147 graves from Danville’s Holy Family Convent are still being determined, the graves will only be moved with the utmost reverence, according to convent leadership.
“We will definitely move this in the most respectful manner as possible,” said Sister Teresa Ann Jacobs, coordinator of the proposed move for the Holy Family Convent.
Jacobs is a member of the Holy Family Convent’s motherhouse, the Mallinckrodt Convent in Mendham, N.J. Both convents are part of the Society of the Sisters of Christian Charity.
Earlier this week, Geisinger Health Systems announced that it had entered into an agreement with the society to purchase the Danville convent, located at 1 Montour Street. The sisters put the 19.18-acre property up for sale last year and announced that the convent’s approximately 60 sisters would be relocated to the 112-acre motherhouse convent property at Mendham.
Geisinger plans to convert two of the residential floors in the six-story convent to general office/conference space and construct additional surface parking.
The graves on the Danville property all belong to sisters of the Holy Family Convent who died between 1927 and 1947, said Jacobs. The 147 convent graves are intended to be moved to another cemetery belonging to the Society of the Sisters of Christian Charity. “What that location is right now, again, we haven’t determined,” she said.
After 1947, members of the convent were buried off the property in local cemeteries.
It is too early for a cost estimate on transporting the graves or specifics on how they will be transported. “We’re in the early stages of this,” Jacobs said. “As it unfolds, we’ll know better.”
The sisters will get any permission they need at the local or state level to ensure the move is done legally and “in a respectful and sacred manner,” Jacobs said.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the convent could get disinterment permits from the local registrar’s office. They would need written permission from next of kin or an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.
There is no charge related to this permit, and the transportation of the graves can all be done under a single permit as long as a written explanation was provided for why the cemetery is being moved.
The convent’s closing is a response to changing demographics in the sisterhood, Jacobs said. “Basically, we are downsizing our properties to catch up with changing demographics. That’s why we’re selling this property.”
The sisters think very long before they sell a property, she said, and the main reason they have entered into the proposal agreement with Geisinger is due to both group’s history with healthcare.
The Society of the Sisters of Christian Charity sponsors two Pennsylvania healthcare systems, Williamsport’s Susquehanna Health System and Camp Hill’s Holy Spirit Health System. They were happy to enter into Geisinger’s proposal because they “feel in selling our resources to Geisinger that our mission as sisters continue due to the work Geisinger does with healthcare in that community,” Jacobs said. “We feel that our mission continues as we consider selling this to Geisinger.”
The proposal has a target closing date of Sept. 1.
According to Danville historian Sis Hause, the convent originally purchased the Danville property in 1898. Before that, the grounds and buildings on the property were connected to the local iron industry, first being owned by Montour Iron Works, which was founded in 1840.
In 1861, Montour Iron Works became the property of the Pennsylvania Iron Company. During this time, it served as a home company stockholder Thomas Beaver, who would become a generous benefactor to the town of Danville.
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