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Last Nun Vows to Continue Fight Against Katy Perry Used to Getting All She Wants

Issued: 2018-03-22

With the aid of a walker, Sister Rita Callanan inches through a doorway to a sitting room in the convent where she lives on her own in South Los Angeles.

Sister Rita’s constant companion in the convent is Princess, a 19-year-old cat hard of hearing and blind in one eye.

The phone on the wall of Sister Rita’s kitchen rang continually. In recent days, the parish office at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church has been flooded with calls from the media.

But Sister Rita hasn’t been taking calls. At 79 years of age, she remains in active ministry at St. Bernadette’s, despite assorted health problems including diabetes and breast cancer. But what truly ails her nowadays is the recent death of her friend and fellow sister in the Order of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Earlier this month, 89-year-old Sister Catherine Rose Holzman collapsed and died during a court proceeding in downtown Los Angeles.

As two of the last five living sisters of the Immaculate Heart, Sisters Rita and Catherine Rose were embroiled in a legal saga that could only happen in Los Angeles. The nuns claimed that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was attempting to sell a convent that belongs to them to pop star Katy Perry for a cool $14.5 million.

With Sister Catherine Rose’s death on March 9, Sister Rita became the lone holdout who remains opposed to the sale.

“Sister’s death has taken a toll on me. It really has,” she said. “But I’m not going to give up.”

The convent in question is an estate seemingly made for a chart-topping superstar—a breathtaking Mediterranean-style villa perched on 8 acres in the tony hills of the Los Feliz neighborhood with a fountain, pool, and commanding views of the San Gabriel Valley and downtown.

It was built in 1927 by architect Bernard Maybeck for businessman Earle C. Anthony. The sisters purchased the property in 1972 at a favorable price of $600,000 from Sir Daniel Donohue, who had been the owner since the early 1950s. The nuns bought the property by pooling income they earned as educators in the parochial schools of Los Angeles.

“To us it is holy ground,” Sister Rita said.

The property dispute boils down to which party had the authority to sell. Sisters Rita and Catherine Rose have said they are the rightful owners and that the archdiocese put an end to retreats and other sources of revenue, evicted the sisters, and took over the convent.

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The archdiocese says it became too costly for the retired sisters to remain living on the property and that it no longer accommodated their physical needs.

“There are a lot of stairs, and it’s a really big space as well,” said Adrian Alarcon, a senior spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “A lot of the sisters now live in assisted living homes or retirement homes where they can get the proper care they need.”

Sister Rita says the Vatican approved an agreement in 1992 that guarantees every nun in the order be taken care of “down to the very last sister.”

“We would be living there and have spiritual, and if necessary, physical help,” she said.

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