BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
Three nuns who were evicted from their Nopal Street convent in August by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will be allowed to continue living and working in Santa Barbara city limits, according to a letter delivered to the nuns by their superior general on Oct. 1.
The only catch: they can’t live “near” Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, which their current convent is directly next to, said Ernie Salomon, a spokesman for a group called Support our Sisters of Bethany in Santa Barbara, which is trying to raise money to relocate the nuns.
“They can’t live here [the current convent] and they can’t live near here,” Salomon said.
The letter, which is addressed to Anthony Dal Bello, chairman of the Support of Sisters group and is different from the one delivered to the sisters, says, “I, in agreement with the sisters of the General Counsel, ask that the property you buy, be in Ventura, Goleta, Carpinteria, Oxnard, or Santa Barbara. If it is in Santa Barbara, please that it not be near Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.”
The letter does not elaborate on what is meant by “near.”
During a press conference at the convent yesterday, Salomon and Dal Bello said Sister Angela Escalera, the mother superior of the Sisters of Bethany convent, received her letter from Mother Luz Elena Ordonez Quezada when she hand delivered it on Oct. 1.
The three sisters received a similar letter in mid September from Quezada, who is the nuns’ superior general in Guatemala, saying they would not only have to vacate their longtime home, but would be forced to leave the city.
At that time, Salomon said he planned to change the minds of church leaders with an ambitious, public opinion campaign.
Despite the language in the most recent letter that insists the sisters not reside “near” their current residence, the focus of yesterday’s press conference dealt with the need to keep the sisters and their services in town.
But that’s going to take big money.
Salomon said a goal has been set to raise $1 million before the nuns are forced to vacate the convent on Dec. 31.
“We are going to try and raise money,” Salomon said. “That’s the name of the game now.”
Now that Dal Bello knows the nuns will be allowed to stay in town, he said the group can focus its energy on raising the money.
“I think it’s a big step and I think we’re going to go forward now,” Dal Bello said of the letter. “[The sisters] have worked and have continued to work to make Santa Barbara better for everyone. We have less than three months to find a solution to the housing problem. Time is of the essence.”
Dal Bello said $6,242 has been raised so far.
When Dal Bello received his letter, it requested that the sisters vacate the convent by Nov. 15, which he said would have been an impossible amount of time to find a suitable location for the sisters.
Dal Bello and Salomon said they drafted a quick response, requesting the original eviction date of Dec. 31 be honored, which it was. Salomon said he does not know why the date was briefly changed to Nov. 15.
The convent is one of several properties owned by the Archdiocese that have they claim will be sold to help pay a $650 million priest sex abuse settlement.
Some say the convent, which is a modest stucco home on the Eastside of Santa Barbara, could be sold for as much as $700,000. However, Salomon said it is not yet listed for sale and even if the group raises enough money to purchase the convent, the Archdiocese won’t sell it to them.
“They cannot stay here under any circumstances,” Salomon said. “The Archdiocese is [the sisters’] landlord that’s it.”
The convent was established in 1952 and has been described by Dal Bello in previous Daily Sound stories as a “big asset to the community.” Escalera, who suffers from a physical disability, has lived at the convent since 1964.
Salomon has maintained that the current location of the convent is perfect for Escalera due to its close proximity to her office and the church.
Escalera and the other sisters residing at the convent have been banned from speaking to the media, but said before the ban that they would like to remain in their home.
When Escalera was told of the eviction in August, the Archdiocese maintained that they drafted the eviction letter in June and blamed a sister in Los Angeles for not notifying the Sisters of Bethany of the letter. Whatever the reason for the hang-up, Escalera wasn’t happy.
“I just told the sisters ‘We’re in God’s hands,’” Escalera told the Daily Sound on Sept. 11. “If we’re meant to say we’ll stay, if not then we won’t. It’s the way it was done that was just unbelievable.”
The interest in the Sisters of Bethany and their now well known eviction has drummed up support in other communities as well.
Denise d’ Sant Angelo, president of the University of Southern California Latino Parents Association, who is also a Santa Barbara resident, said hundreds of students at the campus have pooled donations and are currently building a web site for the cause.
“It’s a contagious effort,” she said. “We love these nuns.”
Salomon said donations can be sent to:
Sisters of Bethany
215 N. Nopal St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Thursday, October 4, 2007
BY COLBY FRAZIER