Council on Aging eyes St. Mary as potential Senior Center

The Manistee County Council on Aging and the Divine Mercy Parish are moving toward a sale of St. Mary of Manistee. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

The Manistee County Council on Aging and the Divine Mercy Parish are moving toward a sale of St. Mary of Manistee. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — While one group is bursting at the seams, another community is looking to condense the space its held dear for generations.

The timing couldn’t be better for the Manistee County Council on Aging and the Divine Mercy Parish — Manistee’s Catholic community — as the two move toward a sale of the St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Shrine, located at St. Mary’s Parkway in Manistee.

“The demographics of Manistee just don’t support three Catholic churches here anymore,” said Don Digna, business manager with Divine Mercy Parish. “So, we’re trying to do different things with all of our space. … Knowing that building will still be supporting this community, in general, is very important to us.

“If we kept it and did nothing, I think that would be the worst option for the property,” he added. “Having it used to support the seniors of the area really seemed like a win-win situation.”

The Manistee County Council on Aging, which is currently headquartered at 457 River St., has signed a letter of intent to purchase the former Catholic church building and surrounding property (which totals approximately 13 acres), while officials at Divine Mercy Parish have agreed to move forward with the transfer process.

“The Council on Aging approached us, asking to take a look (at St. Mary),” Digna said. “I showed them the campus and facility, and they expressed an interest.

“I received approvals on our end to proceed, and we announced it to our parishioners this past weekend.”

Digna predicts the process will take three to six months, and said the transfer will be an “as-is” sale.

“Basically, we’ll likely put together a deal that covers our closing costs — lawyers, paperwork, zoning, etc. — and transfer the ownership over to the Council on Aging,” he explained. “It will be an as-is sale, so any repairs that need to be done will then be (the Council on Aging’s) responsibility.”

Maintenance, repair and some remodeling (namely in the kitchen area) will certainly be on the priority list for the Council on Aging, said its executive director Sarah Howard, but having a new place to call home has been much needed.

“We’re extremely excited,” Howard said. “We really have outgrown our building. We can’t add anymore programs (in the current 4,300 square-foot Senior Center) and there are so many things we want to offer to the community.

“This would give us the opportunity to offer more programs, services and to work on our long term goals: possible senior housing and adult daycare,” she said. “We just can’t offer any of that where we’re at right now, and that’s why everyone is so excited: there are just so many possibilities.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has been very, very positive (about the potential sale), from seniors to people from the Parish. They know we will take care of the building, because, to me, it’s going to be our forever home.”

The Manistee County Council on Aging has been seeking to relocate for the past several years. The organization showed a great deal of interest in Manistee’s former Oleson’s Food Store building in 2017, but ultimately plans fell through.

Divine Mercy Parish, on the other hand, has been active in downsizing its property, also recently selling the parish center and convent on the Guardian Angel campus (371 5th St. in Manistee) to the Christian-based nonprofit Love INC.

St. Mary, which was constructed in 1961, is occasionally still used by the Parish, but the cost to run the excess space has become too expensive.

“We’ve still been holding funerals and weddings there, as requested,” Digna said, “but we pay pretty hefty insurance and utilities. The amount of use compared to the cost to keep it up is pretty small.”

St. Joseph Catholic Church — located at 249 Sixth St. in Manistee — is the primary location for Parish activity, including daily and weekend masses.


Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or

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