The Aquinas Institute, a local Catholic chaplaincy that provides services to Princeton students, relocated to a newly-bought house on 24 Charlton St., north of the Friend Center, on Aug. 17. The move was made in order to address student and ministry concerns about the distance of the old house from the University campus, chaplain Father David Swantek said.
The Diocese of Trenton sold the Aquinas Institute’s historic old house on 65 Stockton St., the former home of German novelist Thomas Mann, for around $4 million to a private developer, Swantek added.
He explained that funds from the sale were used to buy the new house for $1.8 million.
The Stockton Street house is still listed by real estate company Cassidy Turley at an asking price of $4.2 million. A Cassidy Turley representative could not be reached as of press time to confirm that the house has in fact already been sold.
The new four-story house is currently undergoing repairs and renovations, including the installation of new furnishings as well as a new security system to allow students access using their PUID cards, Swantek said.
He added that the house is not projected to be fully operational until the spring semester and is now being used as his private residence, as well as providing office space for the Catholic campus ministry and a space for limited ministry activities, including Thursday fellowship nights.
When the renovations are completed, the house will perform functions similar to those of the Center for Jewish Life, serving as a place of fellowship and ministry, Swantek said.
“The CJL, the Chabad House, Procter House — it’s good to have a place where you can engage your faith a little deeper and integrate your spiritual life and academic life,” he explained.
The idea of moving started around three years ago, when Swantek first became the Aquinas Institute’s chaplain and noticed the distance of the old house, which the institute has owned for over 50 years, from the main campus.
“When I came to Princeton, I kind of saw that the house that we had wasn’t really working,” Swantek said. “We had an incredible piece of property, an incredible house, but it wasn’t being used.”
“The house that we had was too far away. It would take 20 or 30 minutes to hike over there,” Ministry leader Katie Horvath ’15 added. “It’s a mansion. It’s way too big for what our campus ministry needs.”
Despite the property size difference, the smaller house on Charlton Street was assessed in 2012 at $1.57 million, a slightly higher figure than the old house on Stockton Street, which was assessed at $1.50 million, according to the same records.
Bishop of Trenton David O’Connell first approached the University to ask about its potential interest in purchasing the old house and properties that it could lease to the Aquinas Institute for a 99-year lease, Swantek said. No deal came through, as University properties were either slated for development or not on sale, according to Horvath, and the University was unwilling to purchase the old house because of its distance, Swantek said. After independently looking at several private properties through a realtor, the Institute found the house on 24 Charlton St., Horvath said.
To gather student input, student ministry leaders received a tour of the house and responded positively to the new property, Swantek said.
Now that the property is gradually opening to students, the space will aid ministry programming and be “a place for kids to integrate their spiritual, social and academic lives,” Swantek noted.
He added that the Thursday fellowship nights have had good turnouts and that students who have seen the space “love where we could go with this.”
“It’s a really neat house. The architect made really wonderful use of the space. It feels really tall and spacious,” Horvath said. “It would be incredible if over the next couple of years this turns into a place where, on a regular basis, groups of friends who know each other from Mass or our other programming events just start going there. I intend to go there all the time with my friends.”