The Washington Post

D.C.’s Pope John Paul II Cultural Center back on the market

A Michigan order of nuns has decided not to buy the struggling Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, which means the sprawling, multimillion-dollar facility in Northeast Washington is back on the market.

The Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist announced last fall that they had signed a purchase agreement with the Archdiocese of Detroit, whose leaders created the 100,000-square-foot center to honor the late pope and pumped $54 million into it over the past decade. A new, growing order, the sisters said at the time that they could use the space to house nuns-in-training who might be studying at the nearby Catholic University of America.

Because the center, which was meant to be a cross between a think tank and a museum, has struggled to attract visitors, it has been controversial among Detroit area Catholics upset by the amount of money spent on it. In response to the criticism, the archdiocese recently announced new policies for use of archdiocesan funds.

In a public letter last month, the sisters said that renovations proved too costly for “our limited resources” and that they were unable to raise the money to support their plans.

Detroit archdiocesan spokesman Ned McGrath said the building and property are on the market.

The center is open only by appointment, and a man who answered the phone there Tuesday declined to say how the building is being used and referred all questions to the Detroit Archdiocese.

The center’s Web site doesn’t list any upcoming events, including for John Paul II’s May 1 beatification, the last step before becoming a saint. One million pilgrims are expected in Rome for the event.

The center, the brainchild of Detroit Archbishop Emeritus Adam Maida, opened in 2001. Although Maida’s archdiocese retains most of the financial interest in the building, the foundation that runs the center’s programs is headed by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl. Wuerl’s spokeswoman, Chieko Noguchi, referred all questions about the property to the Detroit Archdiocese.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.

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