Rise, fall of Moller Mansion from sister who lived there


(re: “Moller Mansion on brink of extinction,” Sept. 17)

Three of my friends in New York sent me copies of your recent front-page story on the Moller Mansion. They knew how dear and important that house at 3029 Godwin Terrace has been to the Catholic sisters who served St. John’s Parish.

Many of us have lived within its walls over its long history. We are the Religious of Jesus and Mary, the teaching sisters who came to Kingsbridge in 1903 and stayed through 2017, when the four remaining members closed the massive doors of the house for the last time.

While the story stressed the historical value of the property and its fine architecture, it made only passing reference to its purpose “as a home for members of the clergy.” As the historian of my sisters’ community, I want to provide additional information on the mansion and how it served the parish in the 20th century.

The clergy — priests ministering to the parish — have never resided there, but in a rectory near the church on Kingsbridge Avenue.

In 1922, St. John’s Parish Builders’ Society bought land at 3030 Godwin Terrace to build its new parish school, which opened in September 1925. Until then, the sisters lived in two small houses they owned on Kingsbridge Avenue.

In 1935, the parish purchased the Moller Mansion for $17,000. It had been moved about 200 yards to the present address.

The house served as the parish convent for about 20 sisters, who lived there until 1950 when St. John’s Convent was built for them at 275 W. 230th St. About eight Christian Brothers arrived to direct the boys’ school that year, and moved into the Godwin Terrace address, where they lived until 1972.

From 1974 to 1977, the house served as a residence for a small intentional community of sisters serving at the school. From 1977 to 1994, it was known as St. John’s Christian Community, composed of six to eight young women and sisters who shared prayer, life and service together.

In the 1990s, sisters living at West 230th Street were fewer in number. The pastor wished to use the convent as a parish center. The Religious of Jesus and Mary relocated to Godwin Terrace in 1994, where they continued to serve the school and parish until their definitive departure in 2017.

With the years, the Godwin Terrace mansion aged and fell into disrepair. Yet it remained a genteel and gracious reminder of an era of former elegance. Our community treasures a long and much-loved relationship with the house, and with St. John’s Parish, for which we will always be grateful.

The legendary faith and generosity of its parishioners, and the Kingsbridge neighborhood which we all called home for more than a century, remain among our most treasured memories.

I hope these lines have added to the larger story of this great house with a heart, as the future reshapes it yet again.

The author, a historian with the Religious of Jesus and Mary, now resides in Warwick, Rhode Island.

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Janice Farnham,