Our North Tewkbury neighborhood is abuzz yet again with talk of happenings along the River Road Tewksbury/Andover corridor. The road itself is in the final stages of reconstruction and reconfiguration – just awaiting some utility pole removal. The enormous Avalon project on the former site of the Poor Clares Monastery is accepting applications for residency. The nuns you might remember moved across the way into a newer, smaller complex. A few years ago the former Christian Formation Center was bought and renovated to house the Melmark School – a resident and day school for autistic children. Now there is talk of creating satellite housing for Merrimack College students next door at the former seminary.
Some history… Many years ago there was discussion about acquiring the Franciscan Seminary property on River Road for a move and expansion of the Lawrence-located Central Catholic High School – then a school just for boys. In fact, a purchase and sales agreement may have been signed for the 100 plus acre property before a hue and cry arose among some alums to keep the school in the city. Some will remember the seminary as a place resplendant with beautiful lights during the Christmas season – back when the school was in the business of training young men considering the priesthood. The school opened in the early 1930s and closed in the late-70s later evolving into what is now known as the Franciscan Retreat and Conference Center. The Christian Formation Center - built on adjacent property - served as a busy faith and community activity center – hosting youth retreats, parish shows, wedding receptions and even political events such as one where Rose Kennedy spoke in 1970 urging support of her son Senator Ted Kennedy! The Poor Clare nuns were moved from their Westford Street location in Lowell by Cardinal Cushing to a very large cloister across from the Sem and the Center – it proved too large, too costly - too much to maintain.
In today’s Eagle-Tribune Jonathan Phelps writes that according to Jeff Doggett, the chief of staff to Merrimack College President Christopher Hopey:
Merrimack College is working on a deal to rent the St. Francis Retreat Center on River Road to temporarily house a growing population of students.
The 2,000-student independent Catholic college is forecasting the need for additional student housing starting this fall… the college plans to only lease the facility for the next academic year. A final agreement still has to be signed…”
The center has the capacity of about 150 students and will be occupied by upperclassman, he said.
While it does seem to be a temporary measure, the impact of traffic is certainly a concern for the area. It does raise the question of what longterm use will be finally found for the large seminary property. The mix of single family residential and leased apartment housing, residential and day students, cloister, horses, water treatment plant, golf course, cemetery and bird sanctuary appear simpatico for now on this very busy stretch of road high above the Merrimack River through Tewksbury and Andover.
Stay tuned for further developments.
Read the full article here at eagletribune.com.
Mrs. Rose Kennedy is applauded by her granddaughter Kathleen Kennedy (R), daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy as the mother of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy spoke at the Christian Formation Center on October 4, 1970 in Andover, MA