Heavenly Deal: Sisters Sell Villa campus for $7.1M

Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) – by Jeanne Lang Jones Staff Writer

Correction at bottom of article

Villa Academy has paid just over $7 million to purchase its eight-acre Laurelhurst campus from the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The school, located at 5001 N.E. 50th in Seattle, lies within a 26-acre tract purchased a century ago by the order’s founder, Mother Cabrini, who built a convent, an orphanage and an elementary school on the property. The tract stretches from 50th Avenue Northeast near Children’s Hospital and Medical Center all the way down to Lake Washington.

Under its agreement with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Villa Academy will own its campus and continue leasing the remainder of the property for the use of its students, staff and faculty.

The deal is deeply rooted in Seattle’s past. It starts with Frances Xavier Cabrini, a young Italian nun sent to America by the pope to minister to Italian immigrants.

The woman who would become America’s first Catholic saint first visited Seattle in 1903, returning several times to establish an orphanage and school on Beacon Hill, before relocating them to the Laurelhurst/Windermere neighborhood.

Cabrini bought the Laurelhurst property in 1908 with the help of prominent real estate broker Henry Broderick. He declined payment for his work, accepting instead Cabrini’s rosary beads. Broderick is the namesake for both Seattle developer Gregory Broderick Smith and Bellevue’s Broderick Group commercial real estate brokerage. In 1924, John Graham Sr., the architect behind many of downtown Seattle’s historic buildings, designed the two buildings that would later become Villa Academy. A gymnasium was added in the late 1950s.

The city also played a role in Cabrini’s life. It was here that she became a U.S. citizen in 1909. Additionally, one of the miracles that led to her canonization was performed in what is now the school’s admissions office. After her death in 1917, it’s believed that Cabrini appeared in a vision to a seriously ill young nun. The nun, who had not been expected to live through the night, awoke the next morning saying that Cabrini told her, “Now is not your time. There is too much work to be done.” The young nun worked at the school until she died in 1969. Cabrini was canonized as a saint in 1946.

These days, Villa Academy serves about 400 students ranging in age from preschool through middle school. It accepts students from a variety of faiths and follows Cabrini’s precept that a school should provide an education of the heart as well as the mind.

Villa Academy has been leasing its campus ever since the late ’70s, when the nuns stopped running the school to concentrate their missionary efforts in other parts of the world.

Recently, with the aging buildings needing substantial maintenance, the school decided it should own the property and began negotiating to purchase it from the sisters five years ago.

“It’s built like a fortress and has been well cared for but the exterior only has a certain lifetime,” said Head of School Polly Skinner.

The transaction was made more complex by the need to obtain Vatican approval for the sale, Singer said.

To make the purchase and needed repairs, Villa Academy raised $4.7 million in a two-year capital campaign. The school also obtained $7.1 million in low-interest bonds through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, which has helped finance a number of school-related projects locally.

Later this summer, the school plans to begin renovating its campus by replacing roofs and building a new covered play area for students.

Contact: jlj@bizjournals.com / 206-876-5426

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Polly Skinner, whose title is Head of School.

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