Mother of God Monastery plans new buildings that will include public housing options – Watertown Public Opinion

What began as a challenge for Mother of God Monastery to provide adequate care for an aging sisterhood has grown into a project that will yield an intergenerational, connected community in Watertown.

The project will include three new buildings — a memory care unit, independent housing and an assisted-living unit. And within the walls, the sisters will live with others from the community.

These benedictian women are breaking the traditional mold and inviting the public to live on their grounds.

Work on the 485 acres of monastery land, which is on the south side of town, will begin in late October. A finish date and cost are not yet known. The work will be paid for privately.

“About five years ago, we started talking about health care for our sisters,” said Sister Terri Hoffman, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Watertown. “The average age now of our sisters is 86. We needed to start thinking about how we are going to take care of them.”

After touring a dementia village in the Netherlands, the sisterhood began thinking of building a similar place in Watertown.

“We are going to create assisted living and memory care in a way that has not been done in Watertown or many places before,” said Sister Barbara Younger. “Care of a person is not just giving them a room. In South Dakota, we would only need to provide 3,000 square feet, which most providers do. Our resources and what we have to give can really reshape how we are cared for as we age.” 

The memory care facility will have 16 units and will be a place where individuals will continue to move freely and be themselves. Younger said it will be several times larger than the spaces available in other eldercare facilities. It will also provide individual housing that will never be “doubled up.” Each person will have their own bedroom space.

The cost of residency is going to be affordable for everyone, Younger said. Medicaid and Medicare recipients will be accepted. Housing will remain in the competitive market value without taking from the sisters’ mission to provide a beautiful, bountiful place to thrive in their later years, she said. 

“The other thing that the sisters are doing is busting the institution. We are setting up a benevolent fund, started with our own money, to help people that can’t afford all the costs get the care they need,” said Younger.

The new independent housing, assisted living and memory care buildings will house the sisters, but there will remain plenty of room for others to become a part of what they are building on the monastery grounds.

The current monastery building will become a commons area where residents can enjoy different amenities that will include creativity rooms, meeting places and a kitchen. It will become a place that will foster the well-being of the residents.

“We are not just physical beings. We are spiritual beings,” Younger said. “The campus will include spaces where all aspects of health can be incorporated.”

Each of the buildings will be connected with covered walkways, making for a safe, hassle-free movement, regardless of the weather.

One of the basic principles of a Benedictine life is to live within a close-knit community. Bonded to their vows, the sisters needed to provide eldercare to their members without removing them from the monastery ground.

“What people want and deserve is to age in place,” said Younger.

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An opportunity presented itself when the sisters began thinking of ways to take their understanding of community to a broader audience.

“It’s about knowing each other and supporting each other,” Hoffman said. “But when we let go of the idea of having managed care for ourselves, things started to happen.”

The monastery’s communal way of life is unique and is hundreds of years old. With a goal of synergy, the sisterhood was given an opportunity to share its way of life with the whole community.

“When we let go of this being just about us, people and projects and the needs of Watertown found us. What does it mean to live in a community in a different way? We are breaking the mold. We are striving to live one among the community at large. I would call it providential,” said Younger.

Several entities have reached out to the monastery in hopes that they can help meet the needs of different groups within the region, regardless of income, background or religious beliefs.

“Living a happy, healthy whole life through all your years includes other people,” said Younger. “There will be Christian values held across the board, but most Christian beliefs are shared across faiths.”

Student housing will be offered

Student housing is one of those needs. With the monastery having a deep history in health care and education, the sisters want that mission to continue long after they have passed.

“We know that there is limited space for students in Watertown. When you provide true student housing, it’s cheaper than regular housing. And it is geared toward a student’s life,” said Younger.

As the monastery grounds grow, continued amenities will be added, including restaurants, a pool, salons and more. Students living on the monastery grounds will become a part of the intergenerational community and will be provided the opportunity for internships and practicing their practicums.

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“And yes, there’s a pub,” Younger said. “Hey, monks were the first ones to brew beer!”

Several other projects that will continue to foster education and health are planned for the future of these mostly untouched, pristine native prairie lands on which the monastery sits. Preservation and respect of the land are of the utmost importance. Even the roadways will keep the natural curvature of the land in mind.

“This part of our legacy is something more than we could ever have imagined. It will serve the people of this region far beyond our years on this earth,” said Younger.

For more information, call the monastery’s Development Director Kelli Fritz at 605-882-6651 or email