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Future is coming into focus

HUNTINGTON, IN — When the cornerstone is laid for the new health-care facility on the Victory Noll campus, it will reflect a partnership and collaboration that has opened up a new view of the future for Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters.

Since the 1920s when Bishop Noll sold land to bring them to Huntington, the OLVM Sisters have taken care of themselves. But in recent years, as the OLVM community has aged, their needs — especially in the area of health care — has begun to exceed their ability to meet the needs of their Sisters. After much discernment, prayer and conversation, the result is a partnering with the diocesan-owned Saint Anne Communities, who have purchased the building and will operate and administer it under the melded name of “Saint Anne Communities at Victory Noll.”

The two-story, 40-bed facility will ensure that OLVM Sisters receive excellent health care that Saint Anne has been providing for the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese for 50 years.

While OLVM is a pontifical congregation and not directly affiliated with the diocese, there has been a strong connection between the two, dating back to the time when then-Bishop Noll collaborated with OLVM founder, Father John Joseph Sigstein, to provide the community with a permanent home in Huntington. With the sale of a portion of that land back to the diocese and Saint Anne’s, the partnership has come full circle.

“Bishop Kevin Rhoades very much wanted to make it a partnership and very much wanted to make it work. That was a huge thing from our perspective, that he saw as a good thing for Saint Anne and a good thing for us,” says Sister Ginger Downey, OLVM general secretary who was part of the leadership team that worked out the sale. “As we go forward, it will become more and more jurisdiction of Saint Anne’s, but we will always have a Sister on the board of Saint Anne as long as we have a Sister able and willing, so we will always have a presence there to represent our Sisters’ interests.”

The Holy Family Building on the Victory Noll campus opened in 1960 to serve the health care needs of the Sisters. In recent years, however, the building has shown its age, with the Sisters growing uncomfortable with the small, cold, industrial rooms. Discussion began about what could be done with the building, with ideas ranging from renovation of the Holy Family Building to demolition and rebuilding.

In October 2014, the Sisters gathered a group of organizations and individuals from the Huntington and Fort Wayne area to meet during the Sisters’ Assembly to gain more input on how OLVM might develop a partnership that would be mutually beneficial. The group including city officials as well as the mayor and Huntington County Foundation, and health-care providers including Saint Anne. Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction of Appleton, WI, was also part of the meeting. Hoffman has specialized in working with religious communities.

At that time, OLVM had gone through a period where a third of their population had passed away over a span of 18 months. Even in an aging community, that kind of loss had an impact, and added more questions to what kind of facility they would build. Hoffman came in and helped in the process. The Sisters also tapped Jerry Carley of CSJ Initiatives, a branch of the Congregation of St. Joseph that serves as consultants to religious communities,specializing in senior care and property management.

In 2015, leadership presented two proposals to the Sisters. One proposed OLVM continue to own the building but bring in a company to run the health-care system. The second was to sell the building to Saint Anne.

Downey said it didn’t take long to realize which one would work best. The match with Saint Anne just felt right.

“I’ll never forget sitting in the Leadership Team office with Jerry Carley, and he said ‘What I’m really hearing is, you want to sell the health care, and not just manage it.’ It just became crystal-clear that it made more sense to sell to St. Anne and do a partnership with them as a legacy piece,” she says. “Health care is a huge undertaking, and we had never done anything of that magnitude. We had Sisters who had been nurses or who had been in health care, but no longer had the personnel who could oversee it. Health care is getting more complex, so it didn’t make sense for us to try and continue managing it.”

David Deffenbaugh, chief operating officer for Saint Anne, says the project was very much a collaboration.

“I saw that when discerning the Victory Noll and Saint Anne unification, seeing the partnership through the Sisters’ hearts, which was to preserve their legacy. With both teams keeping this aspiration in mind, we could move forward and create our vision,” he says. “Our core, which is our faith, inspires both of us. In the future, I see Saint Anne and the Sisters working together on key missions to help the community.”

Things moved quickly after the decision was made to partner with Saint Anne. Hoffman worked on the plans of a new assisted living facility that would be tied into the existing Holy Family Building, and the 11 acres surrounding it would be sold to Saint Anne to own and manage. With red brick and clay-tile roof, the Spanish Mission look of the new facility will tie in with the original design of campus buildings. Construction began in June, 2016, with a scheduled completion date in the spring of 2017.

Dave Dickinson, construction superintendent for Hoffman, says it was important to have a solid working relationship with the Sisters.

“We are able to bring our expertise in play to enable women who have given their lives to ministry a good retirement environment,” he says. “Anytime that our mission statement and a client’s mission statement lines up helps to create an ideal relationship. Sisters have given their lives to improve other’s lives; We can improve a portion of their lives and give them another tool in their mission work.”

The Sisters have also entered into a partnership with Acres Land Trust to sell the acreage of woods and other undeveloped land to preserve it in its natural state for the future. Along with the sale to Saint Anne, the amount of original acreage to be under Victory Noll management drops from 150 to 43, including the cemetery where the Sisters, Archbishop Noll and Father Sigstein are buried.

Beyond that, the partnerships have removed a veil of uncertainty that had obscured the vision of the future of the OLVM Sisters.

“We know now that our Sisters will be taken care of. It’s a weight that has been lifted,” says Downey. “We have a huge part of our planning put in a place that allows us the freedom to look at the planning for the congregation and how we move into the future. It allows us to focus on the task of historical completion and furthering our charism into a legacy piece that we can’t imagine. It allows us to dream and vision a future that we will live into.”

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