FARGO — A part of Fargo dating back to the city's earliest days in the 1880s is marking yet another chapter in its storied history.
The Presentation Sisters of Fargo are planning to sell their elegant Sacred Heart Convent in a beautiful setting along the Red River on 32nd Avenue South as most of the 19 sisters have moved to a new home at Riverview Place and Riverview Square farther south off University Drive.
The convent has been home to the sisters since the early 1980s and was one of several living quarters for the Catholic organization in the city. The first was built after two sisters opened St. Joseph's Academy in the summer of 1882 for 31 students ranging in age from 6 to 17.
Riverview Place was previously home of the religious congregation from 1960 to the 1980s. The sisters renovated the old convent there, constructed other buildings and in 1987 opened the doors as a much-needed place for retired persons.
So what's the reason for the move now?
Sister Mary Margaret Mooney, who lived in the convent for most of the years since it opened in 1985, said the three-level brick building with rooms that are almost too numerous to count is "just too big for us."
"It's not a good use for us anymore. We like to be friendly to the earth and believe people shouldn't use more than they need," she said.
The number of sisters in the convent dropped to 19 in recent years, down from 40 when it was built, so many rooms have been vacant.
Over the years, the Fargo organization had about 250 members, with the number dropping from 80 to 63 about 20 years ago as noted in a history book from 1997.
The sisters are an aging group, from 50 to 96, and fewer members have been joining their religious order.
"I don't know how it happened," Mooney said with a sigh about the advancing years as most in Fargo are in their mid-70s to mid-80s.
For the oldest of the sisters, Mooney said, many are in their "making my soul" stage of life where they are preparing to go to heaven.
She said the sisters believe they have "fulfilled but not completed our mission" and they have answered God's call.
Many of their earlier endeavors, such as opening and operating hospitals, health care systems and schools in the state and across the country, and current undertakings such as helping find housing for those in need, are being "handled by others" as they transitioned to being more of a support group.
"However, we'll participate until our last breath," she said.
For now, the entire massive convent structure won't be closing, either, Mooney said.
The chapel and prayer center will remain in place as Mass will still be held in the chapel daily, and the prayer center operations that have been virtual during the pandemic will continue at the site until other arrangements are made.
The building hasn't been listed for sale yet, but the sisters are selling thousands of items collected over the years starting this weekend and continuing on March 13-14.
The collection is simply striking in what's being offered for sale, including rare religious artifacts, artwork, silver tray and tea sets, a bishop's chair, photographs, an organ, books, kitchenware, furnishings, an elegant dining room table and sewing items.
That just begins the list.
Julie Hilgers, one of two Fargo-Moorhead area estate sales companies running the sale, couldn't even guess at the total number of items for sale that will be displayed in the convent's various rooms, including in the library, sewing room, infirmary, beauty shop, dining room, commercial-sized kitchen and rooms where the sisters lived.
"It's a gazillion," said Mooney about the items for sale. "You name it, we've got it."
The sister, who can rattle off the historical facts of the Presentation Sisters worldwide and locally, said perhaps her favorite memories at Sacred Heart are Holy Week services and just sitting around talking with the sisters, who came from around the world to Fargo.
The Presentation Sisters date back to Ireland in 1775, she said, and are similar to how their mission started in Fargo as a sister opened a school and developed what became a religious order. She thought education was the best way to escape poverty.
The order continued to grow as they advanced their mission into health care, social work and housing over the years.
There are about 3,000 Presentation sisters worldwide.
In North Dakota, the 250 sisters over the years were a big part of the rural health care system in the state as they opened hospitals in New Rockford, Carrington, Langdon, Grafton and Park River, which were turned over to community-run operations. The hospital in New Rockford closed.
An infirmary area of the convent still remains, evidence of how the health care mission continued in Fargo, too.
In South Dakota, their former health care facilities have grown into major operations, including Avera Health, which spans the state.
They are involved in housing and homelessness in Fargo, where their Presentation Partners In Housing operation moved from the convent to the old United Way office near Island Park and continues to be a light for those in need.
It's something that has been a mission of the sisters for years.
If you go
Where: Sacred Heart Convent, 1101 32nd Ave. S., Fargo
When: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturdays, March 6 and 13; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sundays, March 7 and 14