An Eastern Shore company plans to buy the 68-year-old Jesuit retreat Manresa-on-Severn and rebuild it as an assisted living community for the elderly.
Ewing Health Systems of Salisbury has a contract to buy the scenic 10.5-acre hillside property on the eastern side of the Severn River just below the U.S. 50 bridge.
Owned by the Jesuit Fathers of Baltimore's Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergy, it was used by clergy and lay people for spiritual retreats. When the landmark fell victim to a shortage of money and manpower and closed last summer, the Jesuits sought proposals from potential buyers.
The decade-old Ewing family business would like to renovate the three-story, wood-frame house and build a 22,000-square-foot addition, turning it into 87 apartment-style units for elderly people who need help with their daily routines, said Denny Nooner, Ewing's president. The company would like to start work in January and have the first retiree move in by July 1995, he said.
"We were very happy to find it," Mr. Ewing said. "This is for the seniors of the local community."
The company owns and operates three similar ventures -- one on the Eastern Shore, one in Virginia and one in Delaware -- and is trying to start another besides the Anne Arundel project, Mr. Nooner said.
Ewing officials have been talking to Anne Arundel County planners for several months in preparation for submitting plans for government review and permits.
Company officials said they would not discuss the purchase price or details of their plans because the deal has not gone through.
A spokesman for the Jesuit Fathers also would not talk about the deal yesterday, saying even the Jesuits don't know about it.
"It's an antiquated place," said the Jesuit spokesman, who would not give his name.
He said the white mansion with two-story pillars, though a landmark, "is kind of tired inside."
The Jesuits are using another retreat house in Charles County.
Sean O'Conor, sales representative with O'Conor Piper & Flynn and the agent for the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergy, said he scrutinized "a number" of responses to a request for proposals. Price was not the sole consideration in selecting a buyer, he said.
Manresa was named for the Spanish city near the cave that inspired Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola more than 400 years ago. The waterfront estate was founded on Aug. 13, 1926, by the Society of Jesus as a spiritual retreat after a group of Catholic laymen from Baltimore and Washington bought 30 acres from the president of the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad for $640.
Since then, the acreage has been nibbled away, sold off or acquired by the state for highway projects. Nevertheless, it has served as a retreat and conference center for nearly 10,000 people a year, going from an all-male, all-Catholic sanctuary to a center for a variety of religious and group retreats.
J. Edgar Hoover regularly took FBI agents there, an Alcoholics Anonymous group met there, and midshipmen from the neighboring Naval Academy went on retreats there.
When financial hard times came, Manresa's director and governing board had auctions and fund-raisers in 1989, saying then that about only 60 percent of the retreat's $670,000 annual operating budget came from guest fees.
For years, the Jesuits rejected offers from potential buyers, including a $12 million pitch from a national hotel chain.
Assisted living, one of the fastest-growing health care fields, gives residents help with meals, medication and daily activities. An estimated 1.5 million people nationwide reside in 30,000 and 40,000 such facilities, said Donna Peters, director of administration and meeting management of the Assisted Living Facilities Association of America.