I have to admit to having soft spot for the Chandler House. Yes, it’s just a couple of blocks away from where I live but that’s not it. Having been friends with many of the sisters who’ve lived there over the years, I’ve seen the inside and it’s breathtaking. Truly, this isn’t an “old house” or even an “old mansion.” It’s a masterful work of art that was striking even in the days of Manchester’s High Victorian construction boom. It’s destruction would be an unspeakable loss as it could never be constructed today.
Over the years, certain “improvements,” repairs and renovations have marred pieces of this master work. That said, nothing’s been done that’s caused irreparable damage, including what appears to be the intentional and not so benign neglect of the property since outcries were aired at the diocese’s first decision to demolish the historic landmark in late 2015 which, ironically, was the first official residence for the Bishop of Manchester.
Knowing that several proposals have failed to materialize, I’ll toss this suggestion into the mix. The Diocese of Manchester neither has nor operates a retreat center. Therefore, retreats organized by the diocese, any of its associates or its parishes, either have to use Catholic facilities out of state or non-Catholic venues in state. That the bishop doesn’t recognize the utility of a restored Chandler House as a retreat center is baffling because such a facility is sorely needed.
Being familiar with the facility, it is well sized for Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Teen Encounter and other such retreats. It may be a bit small to host a Cursillo, but it’s doable. It once had a commercial grade kitchen, which could be easily restored as its infrastructure remains. It is handicapped accessible and contains a beautiful chapel. Larger groups can worship across the law at St. Hedwig Parish and use the kitchen facilities in its basement. I can think of worse things than Catholic events that might bring a few parishioners, however transient, into the struggling parish’s pews. Given the desperate shortage of priests in the diocese, visiting priests running retreats could be tasked with celebrating Holy Mass if retreats are held over the weekend.
Yes, it might need parking for such activity. However, there is ample space for a parking lot on the Walnut Street side of the property. There is also on-street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
The diocese might be worried about financing the renovations. Well, there certainly would be grants available to do such work. There are also many Catholic contractors, at least two I know of personally with the expertise needed to undertake such a renovation, that would most certainly be “reasonable” in their fees. However, there may be another option. Vita Nova, an independent Catholic organization that is loosely affiliated with the diocese, could be enlisted to arrange or otherwise manage retreats at the Chandler House. The diocese might want to consider speaking with The Sarto Community, which owns the Sarto Center on the 28 Bypass in Hooksett. It’s a renovated motel. Perhaps the diocese could strike a deal with Sarto and Vita Nova whereby the diocese gives Vita Nova and or the Sarto Community the Chandler House to run retreats and the Sarto Community sells the Sarto Center and uses the proceeds to help renovate the Chandler House with the diocese contributing the difference between the funds raised by the Sarto Center and the amount needed to fully restore the Chandler House.
Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s at all a viable suggestion but it seems there’s nothing to lose by throwing it out there. Clearly, there’s nothing to lose by trying to stimulate some thinking about how to put this property to productive use on behalf of those served by the diocese. Why the diocese hasn’t seen the Chandler House, which is an important piece of its own history, as a facility capable of meeting an obvious need in service to its communicants is quizzical. Perhaps, with the latest outcry, and a suggestion like this to stir some better thinking, a constructive resolution that will restore this masterpiece of a mansion to purposeful use will materialize.
~Richard H. Girard