On Sunday afternoon Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather and Ss. Francis and John Catholic parish priest, Father Nguyen Linh finalized the sale of the Cardome with a deed transfer.
The city of Georgetown sold the property for $1 million to the Catholic Diocese of Lexington. This has been a goal for Linh for over four years and at times, it has been difficult to bring the many complexities together, he said.
“We have been trying to work out the details of this sale with two very different organizations,” said Linh.“The church is traditionally a very private organization and of course the city is a very public one.”
The process was made easier by the shared commitment to honor the significance of the property and maintain the property as a community resource, he said.
Prather has overseen both the buying and selling of this historic property. In 1987, then Mayor Prather accepted the $1 million gift to the city from Toyota allowing the purchase of the property. On Sunday, Prather became the seller when the city sold the property to the Catholic Diocese. The $1 million from the sale will be placed in an endowment from which the annual proceeds will help maintain both Royal Springs Park and Yuko-En, the Japanese gardens created from the property.
“It’s almost as if we were the intentional place holder for this property,” said the mayor. “This property has been protected over a number of years and over many issues, but we have made it full circle and the symmetry of this event is truly very special.”
The business of the property will continue through the Cardome Renaissance Centre with proceeds from events scheduled on the property to be applied to the maintenance and upgrades required on the buildings. Eventually a new chapel will be built on the grounds and the parish from St Johns will move to the Cardome location. The second parish at St. Francis will maintain its historic location at 4086 Frankfort Pike.
The unusual baroque architecture makes one of the oldest Catholic churches west of the Alleghanies, easily identifiable. Several nuns who served at Cardome are interred at the cemetery at St. Francis. Additional plans for the Cardome property include a new school.
“That’s in God’s hands now, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Linh said when asked about the timeline for completion.
The historic event Sunday was symbolic to many people in attendance including Linh, himself.
“God called me to the church, it just became the only reality for me,” said Linh. “I am here to help mend broken humanity through God’s work.”
Linh, his father and three of his seven siblings fled Vietnam in 1981, part of a group of over 2 million of his countrymen to do the same. The ‘boat people” as they were eventually called, endured hardships for the chance to live free in the United States. Linh and his entire family eventually ended up in Kentucky where they had a sponsor family in Covington.
“America is an awesome country,” he said. “It stands behind the conviction of freedom, true freedom. It saddens me when people abuse the gift of freedom.”
Linh said his duties as a Christian are in line with his responsibilities as a citizen of this country.
“God comes to us in our own humanity and it is the humanity of others that we need to recognize and celebrate in each other,” said Linh.
The future of Cardome property will be a continuation of that celebration through art, music, theater and faith, elevating the perspective of all those elements and maintaining community access to all of them as well, he said.
“It’s now time to execute our mission, to be a welcoming spot for the community and not just the mystery mansion on the hill,” said Linh.
The history of Cardome began in 1774 when Col. John Floyd was awarded 1,000 acres of land in what was then western Virginia, for his service during the American revolution. James F. Robinson who was the Kentucky Federal Governor during the Civil War, built an elegant mansion when he owned the property, but that building was eventually destroyed by fire. The Robinson heirs sold the property to the Sisters of Visitation, a cloistered order of nuns, in 1896. They founded a girls’ academy that became one of the most prestigious schools of its type in Kentucky. The academy closed in 1969. When the Visitation community disbanded in 1987 the property was sold to Community Building Inc, (CBI). CBI was organized to administer the building and property when it was gifted to Georegtown using money donated by the Toyota Motor Co.
The Cardome Renaissance Centre was later established and currently hosts weddings, company picnics and community meetings. The traditional focus however, has always been on the arts and spiritual awareness.
“The sisters planted the seed of faith, dignity and humanity on this property,” said Linh. “They also developed an academy focused on producing leaders at a time when a woman’s choice of careers was mainly either teaching or nursing.”
Several Visitation Academy graduates were on hand for the ceremony, Sunday.
In 1957, Dorthia Wilson was a young girl when her father, who was in the Air Force, was assigned to Germany. The family stayed in Georgetown where her mother was a nurse at Visitation for the nuns. As an African American, Dorthia was permitted to take classes with the other girls but could not socialize with them. She ate lunch with the nuns in the director’s office.
“The nuns were always very kind to me at a time when it was considered controversial to talk with me,” she said. “They even babysat my children when I went to work.”
Another alumni, Judy Lynch Wooley also remembers the nuns fondly.
“I would walk the grounds and hear the nuns chanting and it was just like I was in heaven,” said Wooley.
The history of the grounds adds to the mystic of the facility and the infusion of spirituality gives the property the gift of tranquility.
“What makes a place sacred?,” asked Bishop John Stowe, from Lexington Diocese who was on hand to celebrate the acquisition.
“It is the way God manifests himself in a place, a place where people have encountered God and sanctified that place with their devotion,” said Stowe. “I am proud that this will be radiated to the community here.”
Jackie Anders can be reached at email@example.com.