Historic Convent Will Be Protected (NJ)

Mendham Township, NJ, July 14, 2006: The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation organization, has signed an exclusive option agreement to purchase 144 acres in Mendham Township and Peapack Gladstone, New Jersey from the Sisters of Saint John the Baptist. The bulk of the property, 131 acres is in Mendham Township. The $13 million purchase-which includes the 66,000 square-foot former Mosley Mansion used by the religious order used as a convent, school, and orphanage-is expected to take place in September. At the invitation of Conservation Resources, which has served as open space advisor to Mendham Township on this project, TPL has been working closely with the township on the purchase. Mendham Township has been interested in preserving the property for the past several years, and the township will ultimately manage the open space portion of the property as a new local park.

“A chance to buy a property like this comes along once in a lifetime,” said Richard Hehmeyer, project manager for The Trust for Public Land. “We are so grateful that the Sisters of St. John the Baptist are willing to sell the land for conservation so that future generations can continue to enjoy it.”

The property is the site of Mount Saint John Convent and home to eleven Baptistine Sisters. When the order was much larger, there were as many as 30 sisters living at the convent and running services and programs, including an orphanage and a school.

The orphanage closed in 1937. The school closed in 1992, and the number of sisters living at the convent has declined, making the sale of the property inevitable. The sisters have received offers from developers, but are willing to sell to The Trust for Public Land for a competitive price. The purchase is a top priority for the Township of Mendham, which plans to make the existing athletic fields available to the public and offer access to the significant open space surrounding the buildings. The land is also at the headwaters of a significant stream the Gladstone Brook.

“Without The Trust for Public Land, this would not have happened,” said Mendham Township Mayor Richard Krieg. “Our open space trust committee is to be commended for having reached out to the sisters early on, letting them know that we were interested if they ever wished to sell. When that time came, they came back to us.”

Working closely with the township, The Trust for Public Land will subdivide the land. The buildings and 15 to 25 acres will be sold and the remainder will become local parkland.

There are approximately 90,000 square feet of building space including the convent and school building. Originally known as the Mosley Mansion, built in 1906, the property was purchased at auction by the sisters in 1926. They added two wings to the building and ran many charitable outreaches from this base. The building and grounds continue to serve as a retreat for priests and sisters and other visitors as well as conferences. TPL and the township are working with several interested nonprofit organizations regarding the sale of the buildings, the proceeds of which will offset the contribution required to preserve the remainder of the property.

Funds for the purchase of the approximately 120-acre open space portion of the property will come from a number of sources, including the Township of Mendham, The Trust for Public Land, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program. TPL and the township will submit an application to the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund later this month. Additionally, the partners have had preliminary discussions with several other organizations, including the New Jersey Water Supply Authority, the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, the Schiff Natural Lands Trust, and the Upper Raritan Watershed Association, about participating in this project.

The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.2 million acres of land in 46 states, including more than 23,000 acres in New Jersey. Locally, TPL has done significant work with Rockaway Township, protecting Egbert’s Lake and the Herman J. Koehler III property within the last year. The group also protected historic properties in Morris County including the Glen Alpin House in Harding Township and an addition to the Morristown National Historical Park. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.

Since their arrival in the United States in 1906 at Saint Lucy’s Parish in Newark, NJ, the Sisters of Saint John the Baptist, whether in inner-city neighborhoods or suburban parishes, have served God’s people through education, nursing home care for the elderly, missionary service, parish ministry, counseling, and social work.