YNDC to Create Neighborhood Center at Madden Monastery

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The former Carmelite Monastery, which drew thousands of worshippers from across the Mahoning Valley on weekends to hear the sermons of Fr. Richard Madden, will take on a new role in the South Side neighborhood where it is located.

Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which recently inherited the property, 1810 Volney Road, already has started working on renovations. YNDC plans to use the new neighborhood action center to provide meeting space for YNDC and community groups and, eventually, residential space on its upper levels.

“We’ve been working in this particular neighborhood as long as we’ve existed,” says Ian Beniston, YNDC’s executive director. “This building has great civic and historic value so being able to preserve it adds to the ongoing stabilization.”

The approximately 7,000-square-foot house was built in 1927 by Emery McKelvey, general manager of the McKelvey’s Department Store. During the 1950s, it came into the possession of the Catholic priests of the Carmelite Order, which Madden – who earned widespread recognition as a civic and spiritual leader – belonged to. For decades, Madden held services at the monastery, He died n 2012.

YNCD came into possession of the property in late 2019 at the request of Cece Bersch, one of the monastery’s trustees and the last person to reside there until her death early last year.

A nurse and longtime neighborhood resident, Bersch assisted Madden in his later years, Beniston says. She also would bring food to YNDC’s volunteers during cleanup days and attend neighborhood meetings, he recalls.

“It was her desire that the property would be left to us. She felt that we would be able to carry on its spirit and purpose as a civic asset, something that was productive for the neighborhood,” he said.

Carmelite Monastery

The first phase of the project will involve general exterior improvements, including removing dead trees and trees that are too close to the house, as well as replacing any doors that need replaced and upgrading outdoor lighting and the parking lot. Interior work will include repairing and painting walls, refinishing the hardwood floors, insulation, and mechanical and electrical upgrades.

“The bones of the building are very good,” remarked architect Ron Faniro of Faniro Architects, Youngstown. His firm is working with YNDC on the project.

“The neighborhood is just a tremendous neighborhood,” Faniro says. With that, the history attached to the building and YNDC’s success with neighborhood revitalization, “the stars come into alignment pretty quickly there.”

The house is “probably one of the better examples of a brick Colonial revival-type house” and probably one of the larger houses in the city limits, he continues. Behind the house is the outdoor chapel, known as “God’s Backyard,” where Madden delivered his sermons. It overlooks the East Cohasset hike and bike trail in Mill Creek Park, as well as Pioneer Pavilion and the rushing Lake Cohasset waterfall, which can be heard from the rear of the property.

“It is just a beautiful property,” Faniro says.

The property will provide “quality meeting space” for neighborhood groups as well as for YNDC, Beniston says. YNDC now has 25 employees, about three times as it did when it first started, he adds. It will provide more space for staff meetings than is available at its Canfield Road offices.

“It’ll bring some energy to our meetings, too,” Beniston says.

Faniro and Beniston agree the project is in its early stages. Faniro says his firm is still doing field measuring at the site to develop the plans for the property, including what form the residential component should take.

“It would be some type of quality, affordable rental housing,” Beniston says.

The first phase should be completed within a year, depending on the ability to raise funds for the work. Cost for the first phase is estimated at $80,000, about $20,000 of which Beniston says he hopes to raise through an online campaign. He also will seek various grants for the project.

“One of the reasons we want to do the individual campaign is not just to raise some of the money but to engage and illustrate the community support,” Beniston says.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, about four days after the launch of the effort, 34 people had donated a total of $3,885.

Among those looking forward to using the space is Jim London, executive director of the Idora Neighborhood Association. The organization’s membership has grown over the years to the point that finding space to accommodate everyone who wants to attend meetings is difficult. The association held meetings at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley’s former distribution center on Glenwood Avenue, which YNDC acquired and converted into the Glenwood Business Center.

Having a place within the neighborhood to meet makes members feel more “at home,” London says.

Through the years, the former monastery also served as a meeting place for community groups, London and Beniston note.

London praised YNDC and the past caretakers of the property, including Madden, the Carmelites and Bersch.

“They kept this place going up to this point. Now with YNDC, it’s our turn,” he says. “With the help of YNDC, that’s going to be tremendous.”

CLICK HERE to make a donation to the online campaign.

Pictured: The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. looks to renovate the Carmelite Monastery, says Ian Beniston, executive director.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.