St. Anthony’s Gardens: A senior haven

Stanley Bridges, 93, has been a lifelong resident of the northshore, growing up in St. Peter Parish in Covington, graduating from The St. Paul’s School and working for decades as a pharmacist at Hebert Drugs, dispensing medicine and his trademark laughter to his clients.
  On Nov. 28, Bridges and his wife Frances became the first couple to move into an independent living apartment at the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ state-of-the-art senior retirement community, St. Anthony’s Gardens in Covington, about 100 yards from the front door of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.
 
“It’s fantastic – they treat you like royalty,” Bridges said with a wide smile Dec. 2 after meeting Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who came to bless the archdiocese’s new $40 million senior living community that includes apartments for independent living, assisted living and memory care.
 
“It’s really unbelievable,” Bridges said. “They had 24 acres, and boy did they do something with it!”

Three-tier residential options
That something was impressive to the eye at the Dec. 2 dedication. The expansive facility has a three-pronged residential component. There are 120 independent living units (studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments), 57 suites for assisted living and 36 units for those seniors who need memory care.
 
Before he blessed the facility and the chapel, which has hand-carved mahogany Stations of the Cross by local artist Roland P. Fournier, Archbishop Aymond said the project was a vision of what the church can do for seniors.
 
“This is, indeed, a dream come true,” Archbishop Aymond said. “There is a great deal of growth that continues on the northshore, and we, as church, realized there was a demand for a senior living facility. It’s important for the church to reach out and create a home for its citizens.
 
“This is more than just a home. It is a home that has an environment that draws people to Christ and which gives them the opportunity to reflect on their lives and be grateful for the gifts that God has given to them. As we grow older – or more mature – God calls us to a more contemplative life. He calls us to ‘be’ instead of to ‘do’ and to continue to grow in our relationship with God.”
 
The archdiocese first began to consider its options of what to do with 360 acres of undeveloped property on the northshore, which had been gifted to the archdiocese in the early 1800s by the rector of St. Louis Cathedral, said John Eckholdt, former chief executive officer of the archdiocese.
 
“We determined it was a significant asset,” Eckholdt said, who also noted that any potential building project was complicated by federal wetlands regulations.
 
When plans were developed for Most Holy Trinity Parish to build a new church on part of the property, the idea of a senior retirement community gained traction as a project that not only would benefit the archdiocese, Most Holy Trinity and St. Tammany Civil Parish but also provide new residential options for thousands of seniors who had either lived or retired on the northshore and might be considering downsizing from a larger home.

Safe, pristine and Catholic
“It’s state of the art and very safe,” Eckholdt said. “There’s a nice neighborhood and a major hospital almost within walking distance. The church is there. And, the fact that the archdiocese’s name is attached to it is a sign to people that it’s going to be well-done and people will be cared for.”
 
The community is private pay. Unlike other senior retirement communities on the northshore, there is no large cash buy-in required, Eckholdt said. St. Anthony’s Gardens will rent its apartments on a monthly basis.
 
The archdiocese did a preliminary feasibility study to determine the potential interest and market, said Ken Swartzfager, asset manager for the project.
 
“This is considered a Continuous Care Residential Community (CCRC), where you can easily transition from one stage of life to the next,” Swartzfager said. “You can go from independent living to assisted living, and then if you need it, memory care is available. This is all very high end. This should be a good asset for the archdiocese.”
 
The minimum age of the principal resident is 55, and while grandchildren are welcomed for short visits, the community regulations ensure that St. Anthony’s Gardens will be a place of peace and quiet.
 
“This is a beautiful home that is surrounded by great tranquility,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Tranquility is God’s gift, the gift of nature. But nothing is more tranquil in this home than the chapel, which will invite seniors and their guests to spend time with the Lord and reflect on their lives in a grateful way.”
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Filling ahead of schedule
The first wave of residents has already begun moving in, said Corey Leftwich, executive director, and many more have put down deposits and are scheduled to move in over the coming weeks.
 
“It’s going very well,” Leftwich said. “There’s a wow factor. It’s the nicest thing that there is. It’s just well done. The archdiocese did a great job in setting up the facility perfectly. We’re way ahead of what we projected. There is a definitely a need here, and it’s definitely filling a void.”
 
In addition to the residential units and the chapel, the facility includes a large auditorium for presentations or large gatherings, fitness areas for exercise or dance classes, a community post office, dining rooms and other gathering areas. Life Care Services (LCS), one of the country’s largest senior living specialists, will manage the facility.
 
Most Holy Trinity Church is the immediate neighbor, and many of the residents will attend Mass there, Swartzfager said, but the chapel also will be used for the celebration of Mass.
 
“This will be an opportunity for us to grow as a faith community,” said Father Rodney Bourg, pastor of Most Holy Trinity. “As the pastor next door, I look forward to the challenges that it’s going to bring to us as well, but it is important that we do this.”
 
When the community is fully occupied, St. Anthony’s Gardens should employ nearly 100 people, Swartzfager said. “They’re knocking down our doors (looking for job opportunities),” Swartzfager said.
 
The Dallas-based architect was Perkins+Will, assisted by PDRG. The contractor was Gibbs Construction of New Orleans. The property is about 20 feet above sea level.
 
For more information, go to www.stanthonysgardens.org or call (985) 605-5950.

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