HOLYOKE Sister Mary Quinn, president of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, noted the building behind her at Mont Marie and said that when it was built in the 1960s "the whole building was filled with young sisters."
"Those days have changed," she continued.
Quinn was the host of the groundbreaking event that will transform the one-time conference center at Mont Marie into 49 affordable apartments for low-income elderly. The project is expected to be completed in July 2008.
She called the new purpose of the building as " a new response to community needs."
Sister Jane Morrissey, the former president of the congregation, explained to the Chicopee Herald that in 2000 members of the order realized the wing of the Mont Marie complex that housed a conference center was being used less and less. Morrissey said the congregation looked at needs in the area and saw "a gift" in the form of the under-used building.
"What legacy do we want to leave in the wing of the building?" Morrissey asked.
She said the senior housing would complement the healthcare center already at Mont Marie.
HUD funded the project in October 2004 with a $6.2 million capital advance. The rest of the $8.9 million needed for the project came from the Affordable Housing Trust, Housing Innovation and Housing Stabilization funds, City of Holyoke HOME funds, National Religious office and the Holyoke Gas and Electric Company.
William Breitbart, director of housing for central and Western Massachusetts for the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, said at the groundbreaking the day was a "tribute to the persistence and the vision of the Sisters of Saint Joseph."
The apartments will be available to both men and women, age 62 and older who earn less than 50 percent of the area's median income, which is about $50,000 in 2007. The apartments will be designed for independent living, although there will be support services for qualifying tenants.
Besides the 540 square-foot apartments, the new complex will include community and exercise rooms, a library, mediation room and an interior courtyard with gardens, benches and pergola.
During the construction period, the Mont Marie Health Center and the Mont Marie Child Care Center will be open.
Seniors interested in applying for an apartment should contact Jill Keough, the director of operations at 536-0853, ext. 280.
Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan said the new housing complex "really speaks to the heart of the Sisters of the Saint Joseph."