Historic Constantia convent has applied for land use changes. Changes are in the offing at the historic Schoenstatt Retreat and Conference Centre, with the Constantia nuns set to share their sanctuary with the elderly as they struggle to make ends meet.
A land-use planning application has been submitted to the City of Cape Town for a change in consent to turn part of the estate into a retirement village and frail care centre.
The nuns’ plan is for 68 cottages and 20 apartments to be built on the 7.25ha property, which is between Constantia Main Road, Schoenstatt Road and Price Drive.
Structures on the property include an 1870s Georgian heritage building in which the sisters live, a Cape Dutch house, a shrine and a barn.
The sisters use part of the building as a training centre and conference facility, office space and student accommodation, all to generate income to sustain the estate.
The land is owned by the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary and the sisters belong to the international Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt, founded by Father Joseph Kentenich in 1914 as a movement of renewal in the Roman Catholic Church.
Sister Joanne Petersen said when the organisation bought the property, it was surrounded by farms and vacant land. Over the years they found themselves among elite homes, even though their intention was never to be situated in an upmarket area.
And in spite of the development plans, they wanted to maintain the spirituality of the site. Sister Joanne said the meaning of Schoenstatt was “beautiful place”. It was the name of the original Marian Shrine of grace found in a valley called Schoenstatt, near the small village of Vallendar on the Rhine River in Germany.
“There are a lot things going on out there in the world. Everyone needs a place where they can retreat. We want to keep our doors open for such, but turning the place into a retirement village will help keep our property and still allow us to care for people who need help,” she said.
When the sisters first became concerned about their financial problems, they employed Helen Seaman, who had worked in property, to manage the estate.
Seaman believed the plans would be mutually beneficial for the nuns and the new residents, with the sisters caring for the elderly who might otherwise be left all alone.
“They are nuns, but they need to sustain themselves. They spend most of their time spreading the word and giving their time to missionary work. Some have jobs, one is teaching social science at UCT, another is doing counselling.
“They give back their money to the nuns’ movement. They are surviving but they need something that will sustain them into the future.”
Other than the living costs, there were huge expenses involved in maintaining the 260 trees on the estate and the Georgian heritage building.
Sister Iona MacKenzie, who has lived at Schoenstatt for more than 30 years, said the sisters wanted to retain ownership of the land to ensure it kept its original character.
“Knowing that we can sustain the place for the next generation gives us delight,” MacKenzie said.
Johan van der Merwe, the city’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, confirmed the application for the removal of certain title deed conditions relating to the number of dwellings per erf and to permit an retirement village in the single residential zone.
He also confirmed that the proposal was for 88 dwelling units, comprising 58 singlestorey units, 10 double-storey walk-ups and 20 serviced apartments, as well as a 20-bed frail care centre.
The advertising period closed on April 6 and the applicants would now need to respond to any objections received.