John Paul II Cultural Center faces major changes

WASHINGTON -- The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, long troubled financially, is facing major changes.

The center’s board of trustees, headed by Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl since Detroit’s Cardinal Adam J. Maida retired from that position, recently decided to separate programmatic activities of the U.S. Pope John Paul II foundation from the John Paul II museum of artifacts and memorabilia housed by the center.

Late last month, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist announced they had signed a purchase agreement with the Detroit archdiocese, which owns the 100,000-square-foot center that lies across the street from The Catholic University of America and a few blocks from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The order, which has grown from four to 113 members since it was founded in 1997, said the center will be refitted to serve as a house of study for its members.

No purchase price for the 12-acre property was disclosed. The property was valued at $37.3 million for the 2011 tax year during the most recent real estate appraisal. Building costs have been estimated at $60 million or more.

The center, Maida’s brainchild, was meant to be a sort of a presidential library for John Paul II, hosting cultural events and symposiums and becoming a think tank for the 21st-century church. John Paul personally selected Washington as its site. After its opening in 2001, however, the center never generated any real income; donations dried up and debt piled up.

The Detroit archdiocese loaned or guaranteed loans to the center totaling approximately $36 million, NCR reported in 2006. The Detroit Free Press reported Oct 27 that the archdiocese lost $14.5 million to the center in 2008-2009.

Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Washington archdiocesan and ad hoc spokeswoman for Wuerl in his position as the new head of the trustees of the John Paul II Cultural Center, told NCR before the Dominican sisters made their announcement that the trustees were refocusing the foundation’s attention away from the physical property.

“The foundation is going to refocus on the intercultural forum” and maintaining the John Paul II memorabilia, Gibbs said. “They’re not sure if they’re going to stay in the building or not.”

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