Sacred Heart convent renovation underway

The Niehaus family from St. John the Baptist Parish in Newburgh works on framing in a dormer in the attic of the convent building on the campus of Sacred Heart Church. Submitted photo

By John Rohlf

The Message assistant editor

Construction is well underway to the former convent on the campus of Sacred Heart in Evansville, with the goal of having space for both first year seminarians and those discerning whether to pursue the priesthood. 

Back in 2018, the Diocese of Evansville renovated the house on the Sacred Heart campus, which is part of St. Boniface Parish and located along the 2700 block of West Franklin Street. Father Tyler Tenbarge said at that time, they renovated that rectory and made it a house of discernment. Father Tenbarge serves as diocesan director of vocations, chaplain and director of the Father Deydier House of Discernment and director of the propaedeutic program.

“We’ve had guys living there the first five years were just discerning priesthood while going to school or having a job,” Father Tenbarge said. “This past year, the guys who were living there were also affiliated as seminarians. And so we did not have a space for guys that were non-seminary just to discern.” 

This will all be addressed for the time being when the renovation of the convent is complete. When it is completed in August, if there are no issues with the timeline, first year seminarians will be at the convent and the rectory house will be for resident discerners. 

Father Tenbarge said back in 2016, the Vatican issued a guiding document for seminary formation. At that time, they knew the propaedeutic stage was coming, Father Tenbarge said. The propaedeutic stage is the first stage of seminary formation. This stage’s goal is to provide seminarians with basic groundwork needed to engage in priestly formation. 

Father Tenbarge said implementation of the stage was required last year. It was advised to be provided in one’s diocese. 

“Since we had the house, we said let’s just turn that into our propaedeutic stage,” Father Tenbarge said. “We have enough guys. We thought let’s do it.” 

However, they then realized the diocese did not have a place for those discerning the priesthood. Father Tenbarge was not sure if they would have any discerners because those discerning sometimes also want to get the year of seminary formation out of the way. There were four men interested in living at the house as a non-seminarian but they were unable to stay there due to a lack of space, Father Tenbarge said. 

“I don’t know if we’ll get any of those four guys back but we’ll at least have the option now to be able to say this is the seminary program. This is the discernment program. So the convent will house the seminary program. The house will house the discernment program.” 

Father Tenbarge said the diocese had 17 resident discerners in the first five years of the house, with about half going to the seminary or monastery after living there for a year. He said by having a spot for them again, they might catch vocations to get them to go to the first year program or to the seminary afterwards. 

“It’s like the halfway step,” Father Tenbarge said. “It’s a stepping-stone to seminary or not to find out what God’s calling them to.” 

Father Tenbarge characterized the renovation as “a full renovation.” Every pipe, wire and floor are changing as well as most of the walls on two of the levels. He said the second floor where the residential space is located will basically remain the same. 

“We had to add HVAC throughout the entire building because there’s no heat or air conditioning besides window units and a boiler system, so those are now out. We placed 47 windows already, four exterior doors. It’s huge.” 

Demolition of the building started in January. As of May 17, construction was on schedule. 

The renovation is being built to the specifications that if a group of Sisters eventually wanted to move into the convent, the building could accommodate them, Father Tenbarge said. 

“If one day some Sisters would want to move in and teach in our schools, this could be a good landing spot,” Father Tenbarge said. “And we can figure out where the Holy Spirit’s guiding us next for our guys.”

Father Tenbarge said the people of St. Boniface Parish have been generous to the diocese for years now. He said without their kindness in letting them use the former rectory and former convent, so many blessings in vocations ministries would not have been possible. 

Father Tenbarge also noted the contribution of Jeff Happe, who is the project lead on the renovation.

“Jeff’s heart is full of love for the Sacred Heart campus and for vocations, and he is a big champion of what we are doing here.”