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Pews from Franciscan motherhouse in Hamburg headed to Nicaragua

It was a place of great joy, and sometimes of sadness, where nuns gave praise and sought comfort as they knelt for morning and evening prayers and daily mass.

Now the light wooden pews where the women prayed, and the kneelers that held their bent knees as they fingered their rosaries over a half century, are on their way from the old Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph motherhouse in Hamburg to a church in Nicaragua.

“Those are things we’ve prayed with for the years we’ve been there. It’s a blessing that other people will pray with them,” said Sister Sharon Goodremote, Leadership Team councilor for the order.

The sisters moved to their new motherhouse in 2010, and sold the original motherhouse at 5229 South Park Ave. last month.

Inside the chapel with three marble altars, young women professed their love of God and commitment to religious order. They celebrated their jubilees, and when they died, funeral Masses were offered there.

Students from Immaculata High School and Hilbert College used the chapel for graduation.

“There’s a lot of good energy there,” Goodremote said.

The chapel items will get to Nicaragua through the Nicaragua Mission Project, a group founded by Ann Marie Zon that has been sending necessities from Western New York to Nicaragua for more than 30 years. The non-profit group sends 42 trucks a year loaded with goods to Nicaragua, according to its website.

Volunteers from Canisius High School, Catholic Charities, St. Bernadette and St. Francis parishes helped load the furniture Friday. The 100 pews and kneelers, the altars which contain relics of saints, along other items will continue their religious service at the National Shrine dedicated to Our Saving Lord (Jesus del Rescate) in Popoyoapa, Rivas Nicaragua, Zon said.

The Franciscan Sisters have owned the motherhouse on South Park Avenue since the first convent was built there in 1928. Several wings and the new chapel, including stained glass from the original chapel, were built about 1960. The stained glass will stay in the building, which was sold for $1.25 million to Sinatra & Co. Real Estate, Ontario Specialty Contracting owner Jon Williams and Nanco Inc. The group plans to transform the 18.5-acre property into market-rate apartments, town homes, retail space and an assisted-living facility.

As much as the sisters wanted to sell the property after moving into the new motherhouse across the street in 2010, it was important to the sisters that the buyer respect the history and the holiness in the property.

“As much as we needed to sell it, we would not have sold it to anyone who did not have the respect for what was there before,” Goodremote said.

She said other potential buyers wanted to tear down the entire structure. The new owners also have been accommodating as the sisters remove the chapel fixtures.

Nick Sinatra said the chapel will become a lobby and apartment area, depending on any structural issues that are found. Construction could start in late summer or early fall, and the first tenants could move in by next fall.

“They have a lot of history there, 80 years,” Sinatra said. “It’s a beautiful building, and we look forward to try to connect the past to the future.”

The sisters planted most of the trees around the building, and one of their families donated a large cross in the chapel, which also will go to Nicaragua, along with a fourth, wooden altar in the chapel.

“A lot of blood, sweat and tears, besides their faith, are in that building,” Goodremote said, but she added, “there are some things, as much as you love them, you need to let them go.”