Catholic News Herald

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Convent housed Oblate Sisters of Providence for 30-plus years

051316 OLC school2CHARLOTTE — Ask any alumnus of Our Lady of Consolation School what they think about their Oblate Sisters of Providence teachers, and the response is always something like, "They were wonderful!" or "I just loved the sisters!" Admiration and gratitude for the nuns, part of the parish family over more than 30 years, are tangible.

Those memories are even more treasured now as the Charlotte parish has had to demolish the nuns' former convent and eyes rehabilitating other decades-old properties on the parish campus.

Charlotte's only African-American Catholic parish was founded in 1955, yet has roots stretching back to the 1940s. The Oblate Sisters of Providence came to Our Lady of Consolation Parish in 1957. Their order was the first Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent, with the primary mission of teaching and caring for African-American children.

By the 1950s there were more than 300 Oblate Sisters of Providence teaching and caring for African-American children, including the students at Our Lady of Consolation School.

So it was with mixed emotions that the parish's building committee decided to tear down the old convent last month. The building had deteriorated too much over the years since the school was shuttered and the sisters left the diocese in the late 1980s.

"The convent building was on the verge of collapsing. Rain water had leaked in and caused some of the timbers to rot," noted Father Carl Del Giudice, pastor.

The site is being repurposed as a much-needed gravel parking lot for the land-locked parish at the corner of Statesville Avenue and Badger Court. The church has needed more parking space for parishioners to attend Mass and functions for some time, Father Del Giudice said.

The demolition and parking lot project cost approximately $16,000, he said.

Parishioners hope to refurbish the other church, school and cafeteria buildings that date from the 1950s, he added, although fundraising will be needed to accomplish these aims. They particularly would like to get the old cafeteria up and running again as a fellowship hall, and an architect is working on a plan for that, Father Del Giudice said.

The only structure on the parish campus that doesn't date from the 1950s is a family life center, built in 2005. Large Masses and many other parish and community events are hosted inside this 14,000-square-foot building, as the church itself seats only 260.

Our Lady of Consolation School alumn Valerie Adams tearfully watched the demolition of the convent over the course of several days. She was able to retrieve a wall crucifix from the convent building before it was demolished.

"My years there were so phenomenal," Adams said. "They (the sisters) made a profound difference in my life. Our Lady of Consolation School set a foundation for me."

Pearline Carr, one of the original graduates of Our Lady of Consolation School, has great memories of the Sisters of Providence and the convent. She, her sister Dolores and brother Bernard all attended Our Lady of Consolation School in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

051316 OLC school3The convent which once housed the Oblate Sisters of Providence at Our Lady of Consolation Church was razed in April after parish leaders determined the building was too deteriorated to salvage. The sisters taught at the school adjacent to the parish for more than 30 years and left in the late 1980s when the school closed. (Photos provided by Valerie Adams)"The sisters were wonderful," Carr recalled. "Mother Dolorosa was remarkable. She could sing opera. We did all kinds of plays and stuff. We used to go bowling with the sisters. The nuns did a lot of things with us. They were very strict, and they were very smart."

Carr said that occasionally some of the students would attend Mass in the convent chapel with the sisters.

"The nuns were excellent," she said. "It broke my heart when they closed the school."

Father Del Giudice said he appreciates the many memories that parishioners and graduates hold dear, and how difficult it has been for them to see the convent being torn down.

"A few folks have shed some tears. Some of them went to school here. Some were brought up in this parish. To them, it is part of an era that is gone," he said. "The Sisters of Providence were very dedicated women who worked here. Many generations of this parish were taught by the sisters. Their presence is missed."

— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter