It served as a rectory for several decades, then as a group home for more than 30 years. Now, thanks to some creative thinking and hard work, the stately Kennedy House in Perkinsville has opened a promising new chapter.
Earlier this winter Kennedy House was launched as a conference and retreat center, available to the public. The former Sacred Heart Church rectory has received a noticeable makeover — not from a slick television crew, but via good, old-fashioned parish volunteerism. The result will appeal to fans of nature, building design or history — and also is ideal for groups or individuals who simply need meeting or lodging space at a reasonable price.
The building, located on Chapel Street in this northern Steuben County village, was erected in the 1890s. By the 1970s Sacred Heart Parish no longer had an on-site priest, so Kennedy House was leased by the parish as a group home for Kinship Homes. Last year that program was dissolved, and the property was vacated.
A short time later, in June, Father Michael Schramel arrived as pastor of the newly formed Holy Family Parish that joined Sacred Heart with St. Pius V, Cohocton; St. Mary’s, Dansville; and St. Joseph’s, Wayland. Rather than sell Kennedy House or leave it vacant, Father Schramel envisioned a new use for the six-bedroom facility that also contains a kitchen and dining room.
“I thought that this could be a great retreat house,” Father Schramel said, noting that some fixing up was needed, but the structure was in basically sound shape.
The parish hosted tours and social events over the next few months. This helped gain support for the retreat/conference center concept, and also produced a number of people who volunteered to paint as well as donate such goods as furniture, bedding, kitchen and bathroom items, and cash. In January, the Diocesan Youth Committee — a group of teen and adult youth-ministry leaders — spent a weekend at Kennedy House, marking the new venture’s first official event.
“It was wonderful. Everything was just in very nice shape, and we were very appreciative,” said Michael Theisen, diocesan director of youth ministry. “The other thing about the complex is you have a beautiful church right next door; we went over and did evening prayer. So you can do a real lot on that complex.”
Theisen added that as a thank-you to Holy Family Parish, participants from that weekend donated trash cans, alarm clocks, detergent and paper towels. Would his committee make a return visit to Kennedy House? “We certainly plan on it,” Theisen said.
Kennedy House also hosted a Lenten day of prayer for women on Feb. 28. Sister of St. Joseph Barbara Kuhn, who serves as Kennedy House’s coordinator, hopes that the facility will soon have many more uses.
“We’re just starting to book dates,” Sister Kuhn said, noting that a brochure is available for groups and individuals. Fees are extremely modest and will all be put toward Kennedy House operating costs.
Sister Kuhn and Father Schramel observed that Perkinsville is conveniently located for a large portion of the diocese, lying halfway between Elmira and Rochester — only a few miles off Interstate 390, but in an area that’s surely not a hotbed for lodging. “You’d go quite a ways before you find one of these,” Sister Kuhn said.
Indeed, Kennedy House’s rural setting is a major draw. “It’s like a Currier and Ives print. If you have an idea of a rural church community, that’s it,” Father Schramel remarked.
“The beauty of the area — it’s a quiet place where people might find it helpful to reflect and pray,” Sister Kuhn said.
Sister Kuhn is connected with two other examples of Holy Family buildings being put to good use. In August 2004 she and two other longtime Sisters of St. Joseph, Mary Jean Smith and Mary Ann Brunett, moved from Monroe County into the previously unoccupied rectory at Cohocton’s St. Pius V. The trio has formed a “Kitchen Table Ministry” of visitation with area residents. In addition, Sister Kuhn is eyeing the Sacred Heart community center/convent for renovation, so as to create extra space for overflow of Kennedy House guests.
These new roles are quite a switch from Sister Kuhn’s previous ministry: She served for eight years as director of St. Peter’s Kitchen, an inner-city soup kitchen in Rochester. However, as a Southern Tier native, Sister Kuhn said she thrives on ministering in a rural environment.
“This particular area is dear to my heart. I grew up in Wayland,” she noted.
Father Schramel is equally enthusiastic about the makeover projects within Holy Family Parish, saying they preserve parish history even though the structures are no longer used for their original purposes. This is especially true of the unique new future for Kennedy House, he remarked.
“There’s lots about the ministry that excites me,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For inquiries about renting Kennedy House, call Sister Barbara Kuhn at 585/384-9679; Holy Family Parish at 585/728-2228; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.