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As we contemplated the future of our Motherhouse—our home—in the late 1990s, several things were very apparent. The Motherhouse was 70 years old and badly in need of extensive repair. Our membership was aging; we knew we had to meet the health care needs of current and future Motherhouse residents. And we knew we had the opportunity to continue our legacy of education.

Every six years, the IHM congregation meets to determine our direction for the future. Chapter Directions 2000 were pivotal as we implemented the best course of action for our beloved home.

We choose to work collaboratively to create a culture of right relationship marked by sustainability and eco-justice. We will do this through our varied ministries, by educating ourselves and through our lifestyle choices, both personal and corporate.”

So, build new, using cutting-edge sustainable practices, or renovate sustainably?

The Motherhouse itself contributed to the decision. With its 18-inch concrete and brick walls, it was built for permanence, at the height of the Depression. Its sturdiness factored into the decision to leave it standing — razing the Motherhouse and building a new structure would have cost more and resulted in lower quality.

So with deep faith we embarked on the journey of sustainably renovating the 376,000 square-foot Motherhouse, an action that bore witness to our belief that sustainability is a moral mandate for the 21st century.

Construction began in spring 2001, salvaging items and materials to be recycled or reused in the building. Next, mass demolition equipment removed interior walls, demolished stairwells and removed the debris from the building.

Sustainable technologies and methods in the renovation project include a geothermal heating and cooling system and graywater recycling system. The design of the Motherhouse maximizes daylight, incorporates retrofitted period light fixtures and restored original wood windows. Materials and finishes are sustainable and contribute not only to excellent indoor air quality but also to a beautiful living environment.

The renovation was completed in January 2003 and we moved into the Motherhouse in February 2003. We are monitoring and realizing dramatic savings in energy costs because of the sustainable systems in the building.

The Motherhouse ranks as one of the Midwest’s largest residential sustainable renovations registered with the U.S. Green Building Council; the project earned LEED-NC certification and 10 local, regional and national awards, including two from the Environmental Protection Agency.

More Info
You can learn more about sustainable renovation by reading the attached PDFs.

Renovation Concepts

Q&A Sustainable Renovation

Facts Renovation

Restored windows

Reduce: our footprint by not building new

Marble salvage for reuse

Reuse: During the renovation, as much material as possible was salvaged, including marble pieces for windowsills and countertops.

Sorting debris for recycling

Recycle: More than 30% of construction debris and 50% of construction material

Prairie and Motherhouse

The conversion of five acres of lawn to meadow and prairie improves the biodiversity of the site and protects existing natural habitat. In addition, the reduction in labor and equipment costs associated with mowing lawns results in lower consumption of non-renewable energy.

Constructed wetland

Constructed wetlands, imitating natural wetlands, purify water coming from the Motherhouse as it flows through to a piping system that returns the cleansed water back into the building for use in flushing toilets. By emulating nature’s drainage systems, close to one million gallons of water a year get diverted from the municipal storm sewer system. Natural drainage systems manage the storm water. In the parking lots, vegetated swales, or “wet gulleys,” handle the storm water runoff. These swales restore and protect habitat by the presence of native grasses and wildflowers.

Wildlife Habitat sign

By a conservative estimate, in the last quarter of the 20th century, 20 percent of all living species have become extinct. When these living beings—magnificent plants and animals—go extinct, they never come back. Extinction is a direct indication of ecosystem health. This bears directly on our own survival because we are connected to this web of life on the planet. Our intention is to move gently and cause less harm. We are diversifying life forms present on the campus by restoring native plantings and habitat.


We often turn to nature for healing and renewal. The Motherhouse grounds offer a rich contemplative landscape of meadows, courtyards, a pond, woodlands, constructed wetlands, walking paths, gardens, a cemetery and green park space for quiet moments.


The use of vegetated swales and wet meadows enables us to divert almost a million gallons of water a year from the municipal storm sewer system.


A separate piping system collects used water from sinks and showers in the Motherhouse. This is called “graywater.” The pipes route the graywater to a constructed wetland on the campus. The constructed wetlands, mimicking nature’s purification system, cleanse the graywater and recycle it back into the Motherhouse for flushing toilets.

Aerial Geo Field

The decision to reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy sources resulted in a geothermal system for heating and cooling the 376,000 square feet of the Motherhouse.

Drywall worker

The drywall material, manufactured with recycled paper content, is 5/8-inch thick gypsum board that is moisture resistant. Gypsum is an abundant, benign mineral.


Another example of a recycled product is Trex™, which consists of recycled wood and plastic that gives the appearance of a wood deck. Trex™ comes with a lifetime guarantee. We installed Trex™ on the floor of the outside veranda.


We used products salvaged from the Motherhouse itself, such as bricks, millwork, light fixtures, marble slabs, doors and windows.

Window work

The extensive interior renovations minimally impact the exterior appearance and historical character of the Motherhouse.