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The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur have been part of the Lafayette Avenue and Grant Street neighborhood on the city’s West Side since 1887.

They’re planning to remain in the neighborhood quite a bit longer.

The congregation of 77 Catholic nuns is beginning a $5 million overhaul of its residences to provide better care for elderly sisters.

A $400,000 grant from the National Religious Retirement Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will help finance renovations of one building and construction of a new facility at Annunciation Convent, adjacent to the congregation’s headquarters, St. Mary Center at 241 Lafayette Ave.

Over the years, the sisters have sold off some other suburban properties. And while many sisters minister outside the city, the latest building plan continues the congregation’s intention to make the site where the sisters first arrived in Buffalo its central location.

“We want to be in the city, and we want to be among the people who we can help,” said Sister Marian Baumler, a member of the congregation’s leadership team.

The grant is one of the largest provided to a Western New York congregation of nuns from the bishops’ Religious Retirement Office. Those grants are generated by the annual Retirement Fund for Religious, a national campaign that annually gets strong support from Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo.

“It shows people in Western New York that when they donate to the annual campaign in early December, that money does come back,” Baumler said.

Currently, 22 sisters, many of them retired, live in the two residences, which are “in need of a great updating of various kinds,” Baumler said.

One of the buildings, which dates from the 1920s, will be renovated to improve accessibility. A new heating, air conditioning and ventilation system also will be installed.

The second building, constructed in the 1980s, will be torn down and replaced with a new two-story structure.

“We really need more bedrooms,” Baumler said. The sisters expect to house 30 women in the two buildings.

Some asbestos abatement already has started at the site, and construction is expected to last 12 to 14 months.

The sisters plan to launch a capital campaign to raise funds for the project. More than half of the construction work will be financed. “We are trusting in the Lord and in the generosity of the people we know and whose lives we have touched,” Baumler said.

It will be the first campaign of its type done by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, which just celebrated 150 years of ministering in the United States. In 1863, five sisters traveled from Belgium and settled in Lockport.

The sisters moved into the West Side of Buffalo in 1887 and eventually set up schools there and in the Town of Tonawanda, including Mount St. Mary Academy, an all-girls college preparatory school on Delaware Avenue.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com