Nuns fight over ex-con­vent

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - STEVE LOPEZ

Here’s a line I never thought I’d have the plea­sure of writ­ing:

Los An­ge­les Arch­bishop Jose Gomez is spar­ring with el­derly Sis­ters of the Im­mac­u­late Heart of Mary over the pend­ing sale of the nuns’ for­mer con­vent in Los Feliz to in­ter­na­tional su­per­star singer Katy Perry. I swear on a Bi­ble. At the cen­ter of the dis­pute is an ar­gu­ment over who has the le­gal right to sell the spec­tac­u­lar vil­lastyle hill­top spread, which cov­ers sev­eral acres and of­fers mil­lion-dol­lar views of down­town Los An­ge­les and the San Gabriel Moun­tains. Le­gal briefs were fly­ing

Fri­day evening as I wrote this.

At least two of the last five liv­ing Sis­ters of the Im­mac­u­late Heart in­sist the prop­erty is theirs, and only they can sell it. So they did, for roughly $15.5 mil­lion, quickly sign­ing the prop­erty over two weeks ago to lo­cal res­tau­ra­teur Dana Hollister, be­fore the arch­dio­cese could com­plete its deal with Katy Perry.

Hollister, who has al­ready moved in, told me she might or might not try to turn the prop­erty into a bou­tique ho­tel, as ru­mors have it — but that would re­quire a dif­fi­cult zon­ing change, and res­i­dents in the quiet residential neigh­bor­hood are al­ready ral­ly­ing against it.

The dio­cese, mean­while, says sorry, sis­ters, but only Gomez can sell the prop­erty, and Perry is his choice, so Hollister bet­ter not hang any paint­ings just yet.

The arch­dio­cese is com­plet­ing the pa­per­work on the sale to Perry, who has agreed to pay about $14.5 mil­lion, all of it in cash. The mega-rich hit-pro­duc­ing singer re­port­edly got in­ter­ested in the prop­erty three years ago and has been de­ter­mined to make it her home.

Say a prayer that Hollister and Perry don’t end up wrestling on the steps of the con­vent.

Perry seems to have given her all in go­ing af­ter the prop­erty, and tried to make a good im­pres­sion on the nuns at a re­cent meet- ing.

I’m told that Perry dressed rather con­ser­va­tively, and ac­cord­ing to two of the sis­ters, she sang “Oh Happy Day” for them and showed them a “Je­sus” tat­too on her wrist area. I would have ad­vised her to sing “Kum­bayah,” but I’m not in the en­tourage.

The nuns shrugged, and there have been no happy days since. Just lots of ac­cu­sa­tions, dis­agree­ments and le­gal fil­ings. Lawyers can’t even agree on who rep­re­sents the nuns.

What I can tell you for sure is that the dio­cese has sued Hollister, hop­ing to have her pur­chase voided, and last week, a court or­der al­lowed Perry to visit the prop­erty with her ar­chi­tect.

On Fri­day, I trekked up to the prop­erty to visit with two of the nuns. One of them ar­rived in a shiny black Mini Cooper con­vert­ible, chauf­feured by Hollister.

That would be Sis­ter Rita Cal­lanan.

She was in full, sky blue habit, com­plete with head­piece, and so was Sis­ter Cather­ine Rose, who had just ar­rived. The nuns hugged each other out­side their for­mer con­vent.

Decades ago, 52 Im­mac­u­late Heart sis­ters lived on the prop­erty, which in­cludes the Car­di­nal Ti­mothy Man­ning House of Prayer for Priests. But the dio­cese moved the last of them to other lo­ca­tions in 2011, against their will, ac­cord­ing to Sis­ter Cather­ine Rose.

They are still not happy about that, nor are they happy about the way they are be­ing treated They pooled their money and bought the prop­erty dec- ades ago at a dis­count from a bene­fac­tor, and their big­gest fear is that if the dio­cese cashes in on a sale, the sis­ters’ liv­ing ex­penses will not be cov­ered. The arch­dio­cese in­sists that’s not the case at all, but sis­ters Rita and Cather­ine Rose don’t trust that prom­ise.

“We have given many years to this arch­dio­cese and we have served them well,” said Sis­ter Rita, cit­ing a proud Im­mac­u­late Heart tra­di­tion of ded­i­ca­tion to ed­u­ca­tion and nurs­ing. “For the arch­dio­cese to ... put us un­der a bus and run over us, I’m sorry, it was just too much for me.”

The sis­ters said they have met with Gomez to ar­gue their case. They say that at one point, the arch­bishop seemed ex­as­per­ated and told them to pro­ceed as they wished and let him know when they came to a de­ci­sion about the prop­erty.

So they de­cided to sell, but say they couldn’t get the arch­bishop’s at­ten­tion when they tried to tell him — maybe be­cause he was busy clos­ing the deal with Perry.

The nuns knew the arch­bishop had lined up a buyer who was sup­posed to be a fa­mous per­former, but the name didn’t mean any­thing to the sis­ters, who range in age from 77 to 88.

Perry Como, yes; Katy Perry, no. So Sis­ter Rita did a lit­tle re­search on the In­ter­net.

“Well, I found Katy Perry and I found her videos and ... if it’s all right to say, I wasn’t happy with any of it,” said Sis­ter Rita, who told me she would rather not elab­o­rate on her con­cerns as to whether Perry is a suit­able can­di­date to live in a con­vent.

When Sis­ter Rita learned that Perry would be per­form­ing dur­ing the Su­per Bowl half­time, she tuned in. Perry sang “Teenage Dream” ( Let you put your hands on me. In my skintight jeans.), which was not a good choice, given Sis­ter Rita’s care­ful mon­i­tor­ing of the show. Sis­ter Rita then watched as Perry was lifted off the ground and flew around the sta­dium as if rid­ing a shoot­ing star.

“I thought, is that a way to make money?” said Sis­ter Rita. “Maybe I could fly around. I could be the fly­ing nun.”

I couldn’t reach Perry for com­ment.

Gomez’s staff said at­tor­ney Michael Hen­ni­gan — who rep­re­sented the arch­dio­cese dur­ing the sex­ual mo­lesta­tion scan­dal — would speak for him.

Hen­ni­gan ar­gued that three of the five sis­ters have signed dec­la­ra­tions sup­port­ing Gomez’s right to sell the prop­erty. But an at­tor­ney re­tained by sis­ters Rita and Cather­ine Rose sug­gested that the three may have been co­erced or did not un­der­stand what they were sign­ing.

Hen­ni­gan also said that in 2005, the Vat­i­can placed de­ci­sion-mak­ing power over the Sis­ters of the Im­mac­u­late Heart in the hands of a Car­di­nal Roger Ma­hony ap­pointee to the post of Pon­tif­i­cal Com­mis­sary. Both the law and the Vat­i­can, Hen­ni­gan said, are on Gomez’s side.

So it’ll be left to the courts, if not the pope, to fig­ure it all out.

Sis­ter Rita said that at the meet­ing with Perry in May, the singer made a fairly good im­pres­sion, telling the nuns she wanted to live on the prop­erty with her mother and grand­mother, sit in the med­i­ta­tion gar­den, sip green tea and find her­self.

Sis­ter Rita thought that sounded ad­mirable. All the same, I don’t think Sis­ter Rita would be dis­ap­pointed if the place where Perry finds her­self is far, far from the for­mer con­vent on the hill.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

SIS­TER RITA CAL­LANAN, 77, left, with Dana Hollister, who paid $15.5 mil­lion for the Los Feliz prop­erty. She might try to turn it into a bou­tique ho­tel.

Mel Mel­con/ Los An­ge­les Times

SIS­TER Cather­ine Rose, 86, left, and Sis­ter Rita Cal­lanan. “We have given many years to this arch­dio­cese and we have served them well,” Sis­ter Rita said.

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