A resident walks past Mary’s Woods Village construction last spring. Buildings, on land owned by the Holy Names Sisters, are set to open in 2019. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
A resident walks past Mary’s Woods Village construction last spring. Buildings, on land owned by the Holy Names Sisters, are set to open in 2019. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

LAKE OSWEGO — Workers are building a fresh neighborhood on land owned by the Sisters of the Holy Names.

Due to open in phases during 2019, the new section of Mary’s Woods senior living complex will make room for about 450 more residents, leaving the convent grounds with a total of 900 seniors joining dozens of retired women religious. 

The number of workers also will rise, from 350 to about 450. Mary’s Woods already is one of the largest employers in Lake Oswego.

Mary’s Woods opened in 2001 with houses and apartments surrounding the sisters’ historic motherhouse near the Willamette River. Residents can attend Mass every day in the same large chapel where the sisters have professed vows for more than a century. At dinner, a couple might eat with a nun who taught their children decades ago. Buildings all over the campus are named after Holy Names Sisters from the past. 

“There is something special about this place,” said Diane Hood, president and chief executive officer of Mary’s Woods. “It is very sacred ground. Our mission and values really follow along and grew out of the sisters’ original mission and values. We consider ourselves heritage bearers for the Sisters of the Holy Names.”

The new section, closer to Oregon 43 and called Mary’s Woods Village, is being built with an eye toward convening the wider community, something the sisters have done since the 1850s. There will be a central plaza, perhaps a farmers market, meeting rooms for civic groups and an auditorium for concerts and lectures open to the public. Mary’s Woods residents are known for organizing communal activities. One man, for example, offers ukulele lessons.

“Our residents really enjoy community life,” said Hood. 

Cheri Mussotto-Conyers, director of marketing and client relations, said that seniors may have a hard time leaving their homes, but neither do they want to be stuck in the house alone. Once they learn about the freedom and community that comes with moving they usually are keener on it.

“They can leave the maintenance and all the care you have to take with a home and come into Mary’s Woods and all of it is taken care of for them,” Mussotto-Conyers said. “They can come in and enjoy their neighbors and the camaraderie.”

The new buildings include 198 apartments where seniors can live independently and 48 assisted living apartments and suites. Seniors can stay at Mary’s Woods as they age and need more care, moving from independent apartments, to assisted living, to nursing care and memory care.

From the start, the sisters wrestled with the idea that Mary’s Woods would be only for the wealthy, since Lake Oswego has become an upscale town. Hood said that while the development reflects the local market, the expansion has allowed the creation of apartments with a variety of prices.

Other new buildings will house new dining rooms and a fitness center.

The site will include a kitchen garden. Mary’s Woods chefs will use the produce for meals.

Mary’s Woods is popular. The waiting list had 500 names.

“We have been so full for so long that we were ready to open it up,” said Mussotto-Conyers.

According to the sisters’ Mary’s Woods plan, first formed two decades ago, expansion always was a possibility on the 75-acre campus. Now that Marylhurst University next door has announced plans to close, even more property is available, as the sisters own that land, too.  Studies are planned to determine the best use.

Mary’s Woods has tracked a trend: Younger seniors are ready to move to a place like Mary’s Woods, having seen its benefit for their parents.

“I believe at Mary’s Woods we are going to have multiple generations of people living,” said Hood.

Mary’s Woods has an active spiritual care team.

“One nice thing about being faith based is that it’s very accepted to talk about religion, pray before a meeting, offer a reflection, say to someone you are going to pray for them,” Hood added. 

Mussotto-Conyers said that many seniors are interested in strengthening their faith practice and have time to spend in prayer and meditation. “There is such a sense of peace as you drive into the community,” she said.