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Ursuline Sisters begin farewell to longtime home with estate sale

The St. Ursula Center is being converted into the Bayport-Blue Point Public Library and the convent's possessions, including a different take on the Last Supper painting, are being sold off this weekend.

Dwight Eich of Sayville looks at household items

Dwight Eich of Sayville looks at household items in St. Ursula Center in Blue Point on Saturday. Photo Credit: Michael Owens

Catholic Ursuline Sisters taught Mary Hornung when she attended Our Lady of Grace School in Howard Beach, Queens.

Now a wooden cross from the Ursuline Sisters’ U.S. headquarters in Blue Point will hang in Hornung’s bedroom in Floral Park. She bought it Saturday at a sale of the building’s possessions as the sisters prepare to close their longtime home.

“It’s just a beautiful piece, and the fact that it may have been hanging in one of my teachers’ rooms — it means so much,” said Hornung, 52.

Saturday was the second of three days of the estate sale, which came after the Bayport-Blue Point Public Library on Thursday won voters' approval to buy St. Ursula Center for $3.65 million and convert it into a library — doubling the size of the current one.

The sale, for which the sisters had been preparing for months, continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, 186 Middle Rd. Proceeds from the sale of the 8.27-acre property and its possessions will help with the sisters’ living and health expenses.

Hundreds of people roamed the center's hallways, meeting rooms, kitchen and dining room on Friday and Saturday. Some looked for bargains on tables, chairs, lamps and glassware. Others searched in the stained-glass chapel for items with spiritual meaning.

Liz Koehler, 23, of Bayport, said a friend took a library-sponsored tour of the center a few weeks ago and told her about a Last Supper painting that, unlike most representations of the last meal Jesus had with the apostles, included women at the table and apostles dressed in Jewish religious garb.

Koehler was happy to find it had not been sold.

“It’s definitely a different take on an image usually seen in one depiction,” Koehler said while her father, Jim Koehler, 61, carried the painting against his side. They plan to hang it in their dining room.

St. Ursula Center had once been a religious retreat and convent, but in recent years it was primarily a residence for active and retired Ursuline Sisters, with a wing for assisted living. 

Some sisters held back tears while visitors perused items Saturday.

“It’s a bit overwhelming and certainly sad,” said Sister Margaret O’Brien as she stood in the chapel where she and other sisters had prayed and worshipped countless times, a room that library officials plan to convert into a reading room. “It’s a great loss for us. It’s not something we ever imagined. We didn’t think we would be in a place where we would need to let go of our central gathering place and what was our home.”

The 35-year-old center, which replaced a convent that was destroyed by fire in 1980, will continue to be used for prayer, meetings and administrative functions until the sale closing in the coming weeks, said Sister Joanne Callahan, leader of the U.S. province of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk.

Callahan said though Thursday’s vote was “bittersweet,” she’s happy the center would serve residents of the surrounding community.

“But you have to face facts that you are selling everything you own,” she said. “There is in a sense a finality, the reality of not having what we thought we’d have until we end up in the cemetery.”

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