LIFESTYLE

For Sale: A Former Carmelite Sisters Convent in Bexley

Michelle Sullivan

Planted on a hill overlooking Wolfe Park, the Tudor Revival-style mansion at 140 Park Drive has had many prominent owners. Businessman Frederick Miller was the first, building the enormous 3-story wood and stucco house in 1924. Miller ran H.C. Godman Shoe Co., the largest shoe manufacturer in the city at the time. He christened his home Broad Gables, a name that's engraved above the main entrance. He was followed by other business moguls, like Robert Morosky, former vice chairman of The Limited, and John B. McCoy, former Bank One chairman and CEO. Current owner Michael Bloch founded meat purveyor Michael's Meats and Seafood, which supplies restaurants like Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and The Top Steak House.

But perhaps the most powerful and influential owner was the Roman Catholic Church. From 1950 to the mid-1980s, this spacious manor was a convent for an order of Carmelite nuns. (After an addition, the house now has more than 15,000 square feet, not including a two-bedroom carriage house.) The front door holds the first clue to the home's religious history.

When a hidden flap in one of the wood-paneled doors swings open, much like the Emerald City gatekeeper's in "The Wizard of Oz," it's easy to conjure the image of a demure woman donning a habit and scapular, smiling from within. Carmelite Sisters are cloistered, spending their lives in isolated prayer. At the convent, one or two nuns were responsible for making contact with the outside world. They were the only ones allowed to answer the door.

The Carmelites moved to Columbus from Pennsylvania in 1947, after Bishop of Columbus Michael Ready invited them to begin a community here. They lived in a smaller convent off Broad Street until Ready purchased the 3.4-acre estate on Park Drive on behalf of the diocese and gifted it to the Carmelites. (Though the house was at one time in Bexley, the boundaries have since shifted, and the property now falls in Columbus. In short, the house boasts a Bexley locale with Columbus taxes.) When the 10 to 20 nuns weren't praying, they were making communion hosts for the diocese or spending time in the library, now a sophisticated den with walls of built-in bookshelves. Outdoors, the spacious lawn's perimeter is lined with centuries-old trees, which gave the sisters freedom to roam.

Broad Gables has since been modernized, though much of its original architecture remains, including the marigold-patterned wallpaper in the first-floor hallway and a cedar closet with drawers marked with stickers labeled with sisters' names, like Ruth and Irene. The kitchen has been updated, and rooms on the second floor have been combined to make a total of five bedroom suites. It's surely been filled with much more chatter and laughter, too. How a child must enjoy running down long, curving hallways and climbing winding staircases. The cavernous basement looks more like a tunnel connecting two skyscrapers than the underbelly of a home-what fun a game of hide and seek could be. With a pool, pool house and plenty of space for hosting, it's an entertainer's dream.

Still, there's a certain reverence to the property, especially when quietly touring the grassy, canopied grounds or gazing toward the nearby park. Nature is omnipresent here, a bit of an anomaly considering its proximity to the city. If ever one were to choose a life of isolated contemplation, this would have been just the place to do it.

140 Park Drive, Bexley

Listing price: $3,995,000

Listing agent: Jeff Ruff, HER Realtors