"They believe in miracles, and those usually happen," said Daniel Medinger, who sits on the home's board. "The sisters have a good streak going even though their business plan is not an easy one."

The new wings are designed to offer a "homelike ambience," each with a kitchen, a gathering area around a stone fireplace with a wide-screen TV. Amenities include a walk-in spa tub, and beauty and barber shops.

"This is just a beautiful place to be," said Rose Dente, 100, who has lived at St. Martin's for 40 years, because, she smiled, "they won't let me go."

Sister Rosemary has become so construction-savvy that she readily dons a hard hat and easily converses with contractors.

"We aren't finished this [renovation] and she is already talking to us about the next one," said Jeff Lapp, job superintendent for Baltimore-based CAM Construction.

Retired registered nurse Evelyn Hill, 80, spent much of her career at Johns Hopkins Hospital. As soon as she took a job at St. Martin's, she "started negotiating to live here eventually."

She moved in eight years ago and now lives in a remodeled apartment that opens onto a rose garden. She taught herself to play the piano, regularly entertains relatives, and made many friends.

"That so many of us have thrived here is a testament to the good care and that comes from the sisters," Hill said.

Suzanne and Jerry Campos visit her mother, 99-year-old Marie Cusick, every week. He was installing another rack in Cusick's closet recently. Cusick, who used to work in retail, has never stopped shopping. She frequently invites other residents to "shop" in her closet and just lent one a complete ensemble for a wedding.

"She has been happy here since the get-go and this home has really enhanced her life," Suzanne Campos said. "The sisters look out for all the residents but don't confine them."

The home schedules movie nights, wine and cheese parties, and a breakfast club. Residents can bring their own furnishings, even cherished collections such as Shirley Baker's cabinet of Hummel figurines.

Construction on the third wing began Oct. 1. After that, contractors will upgrade the convent, which also is a center for training candidates for the order. Sister Rosemary trained there 33 years ago as a postulant and is awaiting six candidates this year. That ensures that the legacy of the Little Sisters of the Poor will continue, she said.

"Our residents pass the last years of their lives with us, until God calls them home," she said. "When they are with people who love them, they feel secure. They don't just survive; they thrive."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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