Sister Mary Joseph Heisler laid Gideon’s fleece at her master’s feet.
She wanted to know if Mount Carmel, which supported housing on South Alameda Street in Corpus Christi, could be saved.
“The story of Gideon is that if he should go out and fight, he’ll put this fleece and if it’s wet with dew in the morning it means, ‘OK, go.’ He wakes up in the morning and the fleece is damp with dew “said Heisler. “(He) did it again and said I’ll lay it out and if it’s dry in the morning that means I should go.”
Gideon’s fleece was dry in the morning so he went to fight. But Heisler said the fleece she laid before God didn’t produce the same results when she took advice on the Mount Carmel renovation project.
“When I realized our own limits as sisters, I asked, ‘Is that what you want us to do? Is that what you want us to do?’” She said.
“If the cost of construction is $ 13 million, it’s a ‘yes’, but if it’s between $ 15 million and $ 20 million, it’s a ‘no’.”
The cost of construction was $ 17 million, which led the sisters to make the decision to close Mount Carmel on July 31 and work to bring its 30 residents back home.
“It was $ 3 million higher than we expected,” said Heisler.
The closing of the house also means that the Carmelite Sisters will leave Corpus Christi. The sister band has served the diocese of Corpus Christi for 92 years.
Heisler said the eight nuns would be spread across the order’s northern and central provinces in the United States. Some could go overseas depending on the service.
In her 80s, Sister Mary Concepta Chang has been running the house since the 1970s, the longest of all sisters.
A three-paragraph public announcement on the House’s website ends with a brief farewell.
“Our present may go, but our love remains,” says the message.
A marketing study was conducted last year that looked at what renovations are needed to update and modernize Mount Carmel. The facility was built in 1953 and had cornered the assisted living market until 1997 when the second facility of its type was built in Corpus Christi.
Heisler admits that vital community relationships were not maintained in order to raise some of the money through a capital campaign.
The house belongs to the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. The sisters have been serving Corpus Christi and Diocese I since 1925 when they were asked to look after preschoolers.
Since arriving at Corpus Christi last year, Heisler has said that Bishop Michael Mulvey has opened many doors for the sisters to try to rebuild relationships.
“A lot of people weren’t aware of our situation, but it’s not their fault. They just weren’t aware,” she said. “It looks so nice on the outside.”
The architecture of the house makes it one of the most unique in Corpus Christi. Although the interior and mechanical systems were pleasing on the outside, they were in a state of decay too much to overcome.
“The structure itself is no longer suitable for today’s population,” said Heisler. “Bathroom doors are very small, not senior-friendly (you can’t take a stroller into the bathroom).”
She explained that the house’s six-decade-old mechanical systems no longer tamed the city’s humid conditions.
“We tried to fix the air conditioning,” said Heisler, “but the building itself is almost original.”
The home, which has a capacity of 60 residents, currently has 30. Heisler said all but about five of those residents have found other assisted living facilities in the area.
Carmel has been the only faith-based facility for low-income seniors in Corpus Christi for decades.
The establishment of an “old people’s home” was first considered by the Order in 1945, and the foundation stone was laid eight years later. A new wing was added in 1965.
The property, which includes a structure with two wings, a chapel, a kitchen and a basement, and an attached monastery and other structures, has been designed to look like a Spanish mission.
When it was built, it was surrounded by cotton fields and small houses, according to a 1991 book describing the history of the Order in the United States
From the beginning, all denominations of faith were welcome. It was not until 1997 that another supervised dormitory was built in Corpus Christi, Heisler said.
The Area Agency on Aging / Disability Resource Center is a federally and state-funded local agency that helps senior citizens find assisted living through referrals and option advice.
Viola Monrreal, director of the agency, said the center was made aware of the Mount Carmel closure last week when a child of one of the residents asked for help. The agency then called the Texas Department of Health.
“We had an internal meeting here with our options advisor, who offers support in the search for care or assisted living facilities,” said Monrreal. “Depending on your needs, we will give you information on subsidized housing based on your income.”
The agency is waiting for calls from family members of the residents of Mount Carmel. Monrreal said less that two months is not much of a time to relocate 30 people, especially because subsidized housing for seniors and community resources are scarce.
If the residents’ income levels and medical needs qualify them for the Medicaid nursing home, they could be admitted to a higher-priced assistant facility, but that is not common, she said.
Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term nursing home care but instead helps for 21 days of rehabilitation in a nursing home, she said.
Placement in a rural nursing home could be faster than Corpus Christi, Monrreal said. A person’s social security benefits pay a large part of the cost of living for seniors, she said.
The diocese thanked the nuns for their service to the Corpus Christi congregation.
“The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus opened the Carmelite Home in 1954 and have served our community for more than 60 years with a unique, faith-based operation that offers a vibrant sacramental life in a Catholic setting,” the diocese said in a statement.
“We thank the sisters and applaud their more than half a century of dedication and service to the church by asking the Lord to bless them, their continued work, and all they have served.”