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What’s next for St. Anne’s Convent?

Sister Barbara Drell died in August, leaving just one nun at St. Anne’s Convent on the Near North Side.

Sister Barbara Drell, right, died in August, leaving just one nun, Sister Judith Mandrath, at St. Anne’s Convent on the Near North Side.
Sister Barbara Drell, right, died in August, leaving just one nun, Sister Judith Mandrath, at St. Anne’s Convent on the Near North Side.
Sun-Times file

For years, the nuns had prayed for God to bring them a sister.

A young woman from France came to the creaky, dimly lit brick convent on the Near North Side three years ago, but she didn’t stay. Earlier this year, a call came in from a woman in another part of Illinois. She was interested but had strong reservations about taking a psychological test to see if she would be a good fit for the life.

Then Sister Barbara Drell died Aug. 11, leaving just one nun, and perhaps signaling the end of the 110-year-old Order of St. Anne’s presence in the city.

“Very possibly,” said the Rev. John Heschle, the recently retired rector of St. Paul’s Church by-the-Lake in Rogers Park and still St. Anne’s spiritual adviser. “It will remain until Mother Judith [Mandrath] either dies, or there’s a new vocation. We get enquiries but, to tell you the truth, we don’t get a lot of real potential anymore.”

It’s been particularly quiet at the convent since 2009 when the former mother superior died and two other sisters later retired, leaving just Drell and Mandrath. The order, founded in 1910 on the East Coast, was never meant to be a large convent. The Chicago chapter has eight bedrooms. There have never been more than six nuns living there.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the 3,600-square-foot house, at 1125 N. La Salle Drive, in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. Mandrath, in a brief conversation this week, said no one has asked her to leave.

Six years ago, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago did a title search for the property because the future of the convent was “looming,” the Rev. Patrick Raymond, rector of the adjoining Church of the Ascension, said in 2018 when the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about the convent’s plight. The church’s name is on the title, but at the time, Raymond said he knew of no plans to shut down the convent.

Heschle said he’s not privy to those plans.

“Because they know of my strong connection with the sisters, they won’t tell me what their plans are for the building, but I’m sure they must have plans,” Heschle said.

Raymond said nothing has been decided.

“It’s been less than a month since Sister Barbara’s death and the church board has had only one meeting, and the matter was not addressed at that meeting,” Raymond said Thursday.

People are still grieving for Drell, who was 88 when she died, Raymond said.

“I really respect Mother Judith’s faith. When the time comes, we will be praying together and wondering what’s next,” Raymond said.