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Presentation Manor residents are entertained during the grand opening of the facility. Photo by Michael Swan

Unique retirement home for religious and lay people officially opens

  • October 27, 2019

The Presentation Manor dream caught Sr. Joan Missiaen of Our Lady’s Missionaries a bit by surprise.

“This is not where we thought we would spend our final days,” Missiaen told The Catholic Register at the official grand opening of this unique retirement home for Catholic religious and lay people in east-end Toronto near Warden and St. Clair Avenues.

“Yes, through prayer, we did choose it. And there’s happiness being here,” Missiaen said. “Some of us said it with tears.”

The missionaries had hoped to end their days in little villages, among the poor, on mission. 

That dream may have been more romance than reality. Poor villages don’t need the burden of taking care of elderly missionaries. That task fell to a committee of religious superiors and leaders who in 2011 formed a corporation called Ontario Collaborative Housing for Religious. Twenty-two religious communities and the Archdiocese of Toronto invested in the project.

The idea was never just rooms for aging sisters, brothers and priests. They wanted to create a “community of communities” where people could live out their vows and their vocations together.

“The vision was a simple one,” said Presentation Manor board chair Fr. George Smith of the Basilian Fathers. “Collaborative ministry among religious men and women.”

Fully aware that the vowed religious aren’t going to live forever, Presentation Manor also opened itself up to lay people like 95-year-old Monica Donovan. Donovan finds that life among the religious suits her.

“I liked the religious aspect to it, daily Mass,” she said.

The grand opening on Oct. 17 came 11 months after Presentation Manor began taking in its first residents. The facility is 90-per-cent occupied with 192 people. Next month it will open up the fourth-floor memory care suites.

The grand opening was an opportunity for architect Santiago Kunzle to witness the success of his design. “This is unique,” said Kunzle. “First, the religious and lay people mix — that’s fascinating. I don’t think there is any one like this.”

Throughout the design process Kunzle was driven by the religious who prayed and discerned every aspect of how they wanted to live.

“They decided to go with bigger units, more comfortable units,” Kunzle said. “Things like shower and bath options — which you don’t typically get in these types of buildings.”

Kunzle and his firm of Montgomery Sisam Architects has a long list of corporate clients in the retirement home business. He knows how even small things, like the organization of the dining room, can make a big difference.

“Retirement homes, typically they come to serve you at the table,” Kunzle explained. “They said no. No, we will do it ourselves. We don’t need anyone serving us.”

Meals at Presentation Manor are a matter of choice, where residents fill their own plates cafeteria-style. Few missionaries are happy to be passive.

As an architect, Kunzle was overjoyed to design a building for a generous, wooded site — “unique for a site in Toronto,” he said. 

A lot of effort went into keeping as many of the original trees as possible.

“You get instant gratification. You don’t have to wait 15 or 20 years for the trees to grow. They are already there,” Kunzle said.

The result is walking paths, gardens and grounds that encourage residents to get out and enjoy nature.

For Sr. Marie Clarkson of Our Lady’s Missionaries the logic of life at Presentation Manor is self-evident.

“God is here all the time,” she said.

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