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The Catholic Church Is Selling Northeast DC to Developers

Map courtesy of Google.
Map courtesy of Google.

“Little Rome,” the Brookland neighborhood named for the colleges, seminaries, and monasteries surrounding Catholic University, features some of the District’s finest architecture. But since 2008, Church organizations have been profiting by developing or selling their properties. While the city welcomes the additions to its tax base, at least some community leaders worry that the trend threatens the neighborhood’s character and shrinks the necklace of green space cutting through Northeast DC. Here’s what’s cooking.

On the Block

Photograph of Holy Redeemer College Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Photograph of Holy Redeemer College courtesy of Wiki Commons.

1. Holy Redeemer College

Madison Homes plans to buy more than half of the Redemptorists’ nearly three acres (and seek landmark status for a former residence hall) if the DC Zoning Commission okays its 39-townhouse project. Initial designs didn’t pass muster, because they looked “cheap.”

Photograph of St. Joseph’s Seminary Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Photograph of St. Joseph’s Seminary courtesy of Wiki Commons.

2. St. Joseph’s Seminary

The Josephites are in talks with developer EYA and the DC Department of Transportation to break up their eight acres with 110 to 150 new homes. The 127-year-old seminary’s red-brick building capped with a copper bell tower would stay.

Photograph of Howard School of Divinity Courtesy of Howard U. Communications
Photograph of Howard School of Divinity courtesy of Howard U. Communications.

3. Howard University School of Divinity, East Campus

The school is talking to the nonprofit Urban Land Institute about how to develop its 22-acre spread, whose main building mixes Art Deco with neo-gothic buttresses. Until 1984, it housed the Franciscans’ Holy Name College.


Photograph of Monroe Street Market By Todd A. Smith
Photograph of Monroe Street Market by Todd A. Smith.

4. Catholic University South Campus

In 2011, Catholic demolished three aging dorms and converted their nine grassy acres across Michigan Avenue from the university’s main campus into Monroe Street Market, five city blocks of housing and retail.

Photograph of Chancellor’s Row (St. Paul’s) Courtesy of EYA
Photograph of Chancellor’s Row (St. Paul’s) courtesy of EYA.

5. St. Paul’s College

In 2010, the Paulist order sold half of its property to EYA, which planted the sloping lawns with 237 homes. Another nine-plus acres, including a renovated college building, are now for sale, advertised as “ideally designed” for a nonprofit, museum, or private club.

The Holy Grail

Photograph of Franciscan Monastery Courtesy of Gibbs MediaWorks
Photograph of Franciscan Monastery courtesy of Gibbs MediaWorks.

6. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

No development is currently planned, but the Franciscans regularly field offers for the crown jewel of Catholic-owned properties: 42 acres with park-like gardens, a Byzantine-style church, and replicas of Catholic shrines and Roman catacombs.

This article appears in the February 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

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