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Environment & Energy

Conservancy To Look After Nun Retreat & Wildlife Habitat In Fayette County

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Diane Curtis
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Provided by Sisters of Charity of Nazareth

The site of a nun retreat in Fayette County will now be protected by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. 

The Sisters of Charity recently signed an easement agreement with the conservancy, ensuring the land they have used as a retreat site for decades is preserved and doesn't become over-developed.

The Kentucky-based Sisters of Charity currently own the 32 acres of land in Fayette County, where they vacation during the summer. The land was originally used by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, founded in Pittsburgh, until they merged with the Nazareth congregation in Kentucky. The sisters used the land for spiritual retreats and said it was a way for them to connect with nature.

Over the past 60 years, the retreat property has changed. The swimming pool, once filled with sparkling spring water, has been filled with concrete. And the 18-room farm house the sisters used to stay in is now inhabited by a caretaker.

The sisters have changed, too. Sister Corrine Giel said the sisters are getting older and don’t use the property often. She visited the mother house in 1960 with a dozen other women. Now, maybe one will visit every few years, she said.

“Women have many more opportunities than they did years ago. The needs of the church have changed. We did a lot of nursing and teaching, and there are new needs,” she said.

Lately, the sisters’ employees and their families have used the property located in the Dubnar Creek watershed, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.

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Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
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Provided by Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
The sisters said they would often see wildlife near the pond on the property.

The sisters wanted to ensure the land would be used to protect the wildlife and the water nearby. The easement means little will change, which the sisters said is a good thing. Now if the sisters decide to sell, no subdivisions can be built, and there is a limit to how many structures can be built.  

Jane Menchyk, land protection manager with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, said the easement limits the number of buildings that could be added if the land is sold. She said that limits the impact to the nearby stream and forest.

“And so that’s water quality, that also benefits the fisherman in the creek, and kayakers enjoying the water. But you also have the fact that the property is surrounded by game lands right now, and you’re enhancing the already protected land,” Menchyck said.

The property is part of the Youghiogheny River system. It’s also a designated Important Bird Area, providing a habitat for a wide variety of birds dependent on habitats within forests and near waterways.

Menchyk said the Conservancy will work with the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program to survey the property.