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Ursuline Sisters to sell Blue Point center to drug-rehab group

The Ursuline Sisters are selling their longtime United States headquarters in Blue Point, marking the end of an era as the number of nuns declines and the order contemplates its future. The sisters, who at their height in the 1960s numbered close to 100, are down to 40 members. Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

The Ursuline Sisters plan to sell their longtime headquarters in Blue Point to a group that wants to turn it into a 76-bed alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation program for women, the head of the order said Thursday.

The nuns reached the agreement with Westhampton Beach-based Seafield Center for its purchase of St. Ursula Center and its 8.3 acres, and hope to close the deal within two months, Sister Joanne Callahan said.

She would not disclose the sale price.

The order, with the number of its members dropping, announced in late April that it had decided to sell the motherhouse and its property — a local landmark on Middle Road, near the Great South Bay — to help pay for rising living costs and health care for the sisters.

“We’re all sad, there’s no doubt about it,” Callahan said in an interview, referring to the order’s members leaving the center, their home for decades. But the nuns “feel very good that the house we have known and loved would be used for good.”

The Seafield Center’s leaders said they plan to convert the 6-acre, co-ed Westhampton Beach facility to a male-only center and shift their services for women to Blue Point.

“We are all aware of the opioid crisis on Long Island and the demand for beds is significant,” CEO Mark Epley said in a news release. “Seafield Center has had a 97 percent occupancy rate and a waiting list for over two years. The new facility will help reduce the waiting list and will help answer the increased demand for treatment.”

But Town of Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley said Thursday that the proposed facility would need a variance to open on the site, and that town officials are not inclined to grant that.

Seafield Center — a private, for-profit facility — has operated in Westhampton Beach since 1985. Its website says the facility is licensed by the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services and has 100 beds for people 16 and older. The group also has six outpatient sites in Nassau and Suffolk counties, Epley said.

Callahan said the Seafield Center is a good match from the order’s perspective.

“Knowing the history of the Seafield Center and its core mission, we are happy about entering into this contract as Seafield’s plans for using the St. Ursula Center for women is in keeping with our mission,” she said.

“We believe that women who come here for rehabilitation will find serenity, peace and healing — as the Ursuline Sisters have since 1935.”

The order, based mainly on Long Island, reached 100 sisters in the 1960s but is down to about 40, with most in their 70s or above. They include Marguerite Torre, the sister of former Yankees and Mets manager Joe Torre.

Callahan said she realizes some local residents may oppose the plan, but she is hopeful it will gain acceptance. She and Epley both said Seafield was reviewing whether it needed a variance from the town to open the facility, which would be nestled in a quiet residential community.

“I hope that Brookhaven sees it as something, particularly on Long Island [where there] is such an epidemic of opioids and deaths, that they would think that this would be a very good thing,” she said.

Seafield has “been running the place in Westhampton for 32 years. They have very wealthy neighbors right around them, and it’s never been an issue,” Callahan said. “I don’t kid myself. There will be people who will think it’s a great idea, and there will be people who think it is a terrible idea. But that is true with whoever we sold to.”

Epley said the Blue Point center is needed to help meet growing demand for rehab services.

The group said some 350 people from Blue Point and a few surrounding communities had used its services in the last few years.

Dennis McCarthy, a longtime local resident and leader of Our Lady of the Snow parish in Blue Point, said the community owes a great debt of gratitude to the nuns for their work, and that it remains to be seen how the town approval process will work.

“It will be interesting to see what their [Seafield’s] plans are to make it fit in the middle of a very residential community with not a lot of access roads around,” McCarthy said. “It’s really off the beaten track.”

Some in the community, including Foley, had floated the idea of turning the motherhouse into a new library for Blue Point.

Callahan said that while she liked the idea, the process to make that happen would have been complicated and lengthy.

With the library “there are so many pieces and so many parts that it could be years, and we can’t wait years to sell the building,” she said.

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