Religious real estate
Replete with a stone grotto, an in-house bakery and 20,000 square feet over four floors, the former Notre Dame Convent is unlike any other piece of real estate
December 8, 2004
Think a pool in your yard is a selling feature? How about a moss-covered stone grotto, replete with a statue of the Virgin Mary? Or an in-house bakery?

The latter two, along with a lofty 14-foot rooftop cross, are part of a 20,000-square-foot red brick rural convent that has been converted into a private home. The going price is a mere $100,000, with annual property taxes a measly $639.74.

The four-level castle, set on the vast countryside with a tree-lined carriage path leading up the centre of the grounds to the main doors, looks as though it jumped out of an Emily Bronte novel. The arch-roofed grotto is located under the gaze of towering evergreens and elm trees.

The property is a living postcard.

So what's the catch? If you love isolation, there isn't one.

"Let me guess, it had two people and a cow -- and the cow died, right?" remarked a telephone operator after spending several minutes trying to find a single phone number listed for Leipzig, a German settlement located about 90 minutes west of Saskatoon.

The former Notre Dame Convent is one of two buildings still standing in Leipzig. The other is a Catholic church, attended by a smattering of parishioners from surrounding locales.

There are also two farmyards nearby, but the road that divides them from the convent marks the town limits.

"When the wife and I are away at work, the population is zero," said Ron Kolenosky, the current owner with his wife, Mary.

The couple is selling the property because they are the only ones in the massive home, which has four levels -- three storeys and the main floor, each of which is 5,000 square feet. Their children are grown and have moved on since the Kolenoskys bought the place 12 years ago. They have lived there for the past eight, after spending the first four years renovating the main level and sealing off the upper three to save heating costs.

Now they, like many others, are planning to move away from the rural life.

The convent's sale is a sign of the times, said Bev Jones, a Realtor. Unusual property is becoming more available in rural areas of the province as the exodus of residents means the original occupants of train stations, banks and postal offices inevitably pull out as well.

Jones has had interest in the property from across the country but no buyers yet. It's been on the market for three months.

It may soon have competition for buyers seeking a unique home. The church in Leipzig is also likely going on the block.

"We'll be celebrating its 100th year next year and then it will probably be shut down. It's a big church and there isn't enough rural population to support it and keep it up anymore," said Kolenosky, who is saddened by the death of the town where he grew up.

The high school closed in 1968 and students were transferred to Wilkie, 24 kilometres north. The families soon followed.

Kolenosky used to stare in awe at the sheer size of the convent when the German sisters ran it. When they left it back in the early 1980s, it stood empty for years and fell victim to vandals and age. Windows were broken and the roof did little to keep the rain and snow out, leading to a lot of water damage.

I wish we'd have got it right after they left, then it wouldn't have been so wrecked up," Kolenosky said.

The roof has since been fixed and the construction of the facility meant the water only harmed some walls. The floors are hardwood-covered concrete, so the wood is easily replaced.

"We fixed the roof and patched enough windows to keep the stupid birds out," he said.

The couple had operated a bakery in Wilkie before buying the convent and moving the business there. All of the equipment is still there and comes with the house.

"It's all set up and still operational," said Kolenosky, who is also the administrator at an assisted living centre in Wilkie.

On the main floor, he and Mary worked hard to make a home and have the building designated an official heritage site. They put in thousands of hours clearing the yard of weeds and other plants and grass that had gone wild. It was to a point where the long, sweeping driveway was not visible.

Once the main floor was renovated, work on the other three levels was put on hold and their radiators closed off to save heating costs. The couple hoped to turn it into a bed and breakfast, believing the quiet, rural location would be attractive to people wanting to get away from the busy city. Unfortunately, finances have dictated otherwise.

"We just can't get the money together to do it," said Kolenosky.

Even with the heat-saving measures, the bills "ate everything up that we made. We couldn't afford to do anything."

They used natural gas for a while but the expenses were prohibitive. It costs about $9,000 a year to heat with gas or $2,000 with coal. The problem with coal is that someone must be around to stoke the fire, or else the pipes will freeze. That means winter holidays of more than three days in length are out of the question.

The facility would also make for a great artists' retreat or an outstanding haunted house. The ghouls would have to be brought in, though.

"People have asked us about ghosts but no, there's none. I have never run across anything spooky," said Kolenosky.

Despite some hassles, it will be hard to leave, he added.

"We keep hoping for a lottery win but those buggers, they don't come up for us. That's what it'll take," he laughed. "She'd be brand spankin' new if we got that."

The house can be viewed on the Internet at or at

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004