Friday, June 28, 2013

Blast from the Past

Yesterday at Kidcity Children's Museum, we had some unexpected visitors!  Sister Lucille (left) and Sister Ann Marie (right) stopped at our front desk and asked if they could look around, because they used to live here when our building was the convent for St. Sebastian's Church!

I had a blast showing both of them around the older section of the museum, as they went from room to room saying "This was the Mother Superior's room"and "There used to be a stairway here down to the kitchen."   Apparently, our Fishery exhibit used to be something called the Rumpus Room.

Sister Lucille pulled out her smart phone at one point and called another nun, saying "I'm standing right now where the chapel used to be!"

Sister Ann Marie lived in Middletown for two years in the 1960's  - she said "Everyone here was from Melilli - I used to call them Mellillians".   Sister Lucille lived at the convent for two years in the 1980's. Both taught at St. Sebastian's School on Green Street and Sister Lucille remembered when the school moved to Eckersley Hall, which will soon be Middletown's senior center.

Here's a bit of the history of Kidcity's building:  The house itself was built on the corner of Broad and Washington in the 1860's as a duplex mansion for the Camp and Sterns families, and then became the convent for St. Sebastian's in the 1920's.  There was only 6 or 8 feet from the back of the house to the side of St. Sebastian's Church - an interesting thing to reflect on when you imagine what a huge endeavor it must have been to build the church, with a house sitting just a few feet away.

By 1997, the Church was planning to demolish the vacant convent, which had been declared a blighted building by the city.  After a plea from local preservationists, led by Jeff Bianco, the Church decided to donate the building to our new non-profit organization so that we could start Kidcity - a win-win for everyone.  We had to move the building down the street from the corner of Broad and Washington, on what was surely the coldest day of the year, only to have the building get stuck in the  middle of the street.  Two days later, the building finally made its way to the current location, a small piece of the public parking lot which was donated by the city for the new foundation.  The Connection was our angel investor at that point, taking out a mortgage from Citizens to pay for the move, and then selling the building to Kidcity on the first anniversary of our opening the museum.

As it looks now, the convent is Kidcity's blue building, which was rotated to face Washington Street during the move.  The yellow building is the addition that we built to the museum in 2003.

We sometimes have visitors who went to St. Sebastian's School as children and they tell us about going to the convent to clean - someone just wrote on our facebook page about her memories of polishing the banister.  But this is the first time in many, many years that we've had any of the Sisters stop by.

After leaving Middletown, Sister Ann Marie and Sister Lucille continued their teaching careers, and their love for children was clear as they walked through the museum and engaged kids as they played pretend.  We debated with one little boy about what kind of dinosaur he was carrying around (Stegosaurus?  Spinosaurus?)

Sister Ann Marie and Sister Lucille are currently retired in New Jersey, but they both had warm memories of Middletown and it was such a delight to visit with them.  

**UPDATED:  My apologies for the first draft of this article, which listed the Sisters of Mercy instead of the Sisters of St. Lucy Fillippini as the order of Sister Lucille and Sister Ann Marie.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely story! Thanks for this charming piece of Middletown history.

Barbara Lastrina Monarca said...

I too have enjoyed walking through KidCity with many memories of the convent. My sister and my friend would leave St. Sebastian's School on Friday evenings and go to the convent to clean for the sisters, my father would pick us up for home around 6:00 p.m. Wonderful memories! Sometimes when I am at KidCity I could still remember the smells of the convent. Although I do not remember the two nuns featured in your story I have many memories of Sister Francis, Sister Nancy, Sister Mary Fata Russo, and of course who could forget Sr. Petrina. They are not Sisters of Mercy as mentioned in your article they are Sister of Phillipini housed out of Morristown New Jersey.

Found memories indeed!!!!

Anonymous said...

My aunt is a nun based out of Morristown, also retired. I believe they are Sisters of Mercy.

Anonymous said...

The St. Sebastian teacher/nuns were from the Sisters of St. Lucy Filippini order from Morristown NJ, which is a religious teaching order.

M.A. said...

I never met these sisters, but I am glad they were warmly welcomed! As a graduate of St Sebastian School, and a mother of 2 alumni, I can attest to what a special place the nuns had in our lives. I will always be grateful for their dedication and positive influence. They are sorely missed!