A Converted Convent

Disclosure of shameless showcasing of husband’s work! On a beautiful Indian Summer day, with the sun streaming in through the large windows throughout, I toured the former Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame on Federal Street yesterday with my husband, the architect responsible for its conversion into eight residential units. The convent was built in 1878 for the Sisters, who joined St. James Parish in 1864 and served as instructors in the large parochial school next door. Ten years later, a regional Catholic directory records 14 sisters living in the building, with their Mother Superior, Sister Mary Felicitas, and the school office on the first floor (the Sisters were real educational heroines, who opened parochial schools all over the state, but particularly in its industrial cities: they arrived in Salem in 1854 to join the Parish of Immaculate Conception right in the midst of the Know-Nothing frenzy and then later came over to St. James—you can read much more about the Massachusetts Sisters here). I honestly don’t know how long the building has been vacant, but it is part of a large complex on Federal Street built because of the initiatives of Father John J. Gray, including his Italianate rectory across the street (also converted to residences), and the school and “new” (1891) church next door. The St. James Parish, Salem’s second Catholic parish, has now been merged with its first, Immaculate Conception, as Mary, Queen of the Apostles. The sale and conversion of archdiocesan buildings is a huge trend here in Eastern Massachusetts: this is my husband’s second convent conversion in Salem. With sensitive architectural adaptations we can all continue to enjoy these well-built buildings for quite some time. As you can see from the photos I ran around snapping, this particular building is BIG, with wide, long corridors and very high ceilings on both the first and second floors, but there are nooks and crannies as well (particularly on the third floor) and a finished basement. In back, there is a HUGE parking lot (very precious in Salem) right next to the brand-new new Community Life Center on Bridge Street. As the building was restored with Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, the units will be rented for a period of five years and then converted to condominiums.

Convent 1

Convent 2

Convent 3

Convent 16

Convent 7

Convent 6

Convent 4

Convent 12

Convent 5

Convent 10

Convent 11

Convent 9

Convent Collage

Convent 14

Convent 8Looking out these windows to the east and west, you see Old Salem in the form of the parochial school, which will also be converted into residences, and New Salem in the form of the Community Life Center and River Rock housing development beyond.

16 responses to “A Converted Convent

  • judy seger

    Wonderful job!

  • Anton Christiansen

    nice work. very crisp with the white trim and wood floors. it was great that the stairway and railings could be used as they probably do not meet current code.

    • daseger

      Thanks, Anton–will convey to John, I’m sorry I don’t have any “before” pictures; it struck me as one of those institutional buildings that was very well built but didn’t really have the charm of a residential structure, so the details are few–and so they were key to keep.

  • Vicky

    Wow! It’s beautiful!! Great photos! I love the entry way and the little nooks throughout! Thanks for sharing!

  • Richard Bevins

    From what the photos tell, John & Co. did a nice job. Salem needs some high-end repurposing of old buildings. And a little shameless self-promotion is always refreshing.


  • Jan LeBel

    More than 30 years ago, I worked in that building with an office on the third floor. It was a tired structure then … It is wonderful to see it looking so much better – and respected. Beautiful job, John and team!!

  • Louis Sirianni

    Another very good job….John
    I hope you get 5 Broad

  • Anne Sterling

    Plus new owners will get the bonus of serene vibes left over from the sweet ladies who lived and prayed there.

  • gallowshillsite

    Was this a mansion before the Sisters took over? Seems so extravagant, so elegant, so spacious, not the tiny cells that one presumed that nuns lived in. So much for vow of poverty 😉

    • daseger

      I do not think so. It’s very institutional. Very big rooms on first and second floors though–smaller on the third. I know it was school administration offices on the first floor.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    What a great job your husband and his staff did in revitalizing the Catholic convent in Salem. Beautiful job.

    My only sister is a Notre Dame nun so I have been in many convents over the past fifty years. I daresay none remain as homes for the sisters, so it is wonderful to see one so well restored. Thank you so much for acknowledging the work of these good women. I appreciate you including the link to the brief history of the Notre Dame nuns in Massachusetts. I went to St. Mary’s in Lynn and Emmanuel College.

    My sister spent many retirement years in the Ipswich facility. Ironically it was built to replace the novitiate in Waltham in the early 60s, but is now largely empty. Presently, she is in the Notre Dame Long Term Care facility in Worcester. The order made provision for the care of these hardworking nuns in their declining years.

    Again, thank you for keeping their dedication alive, and kudos to your husband.

  • St. James Church Nearer, My God, to Closing | Streets of Gallows Hill

    […] by the faded sign behind the former nunnery on Bridge St along Blubber Hollow. Despite the conversion of the former nunnery at 162 Federal St into eight apartments, open just this month and now available for rent, the sign still remains. The […]

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