Column: Nuns fight plan to sell Hollywood convent to Katy Perry

Sister Rita Callanan, 77, left, and restaurateur Dana Hollister walk inside the main room of a villa at the former convent in Los Feliz.
Sister Rita Callanan, 77, left, and restaurateur Dana Hollister walk inside the main room of a villa at the former convent in Los Feliz.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s a line I never thought I’d have the pleasure of writing:

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez is sparring with elderly Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary over the pending sale of the nuns’ former convent in Los Feliz to international superstar singer Katy Perry.

I swear on a Bible.

At the center of the dispute is an argument over who has the legal right to sell the spectacular villa-style hilltop spread, which covers several acres and offers million-dollar views of downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains. Legal briefs were flying Friday evening as I wrote this.

At least two of the last five living sisters of the Immaculate Heart insist the property is theirs, and only they can sell it. So they did, for roughly $15.5 million, quickly signing the property over two weeks ago to local restaurateur Dana Hollister, before the archdiocese could complete its deal with Katy Perry.


Hollister, who has already moved in, told me she might or might not try to turn the property into a boutique hotel, as rumors have it — but that would require zoning changes, and residents of the quiet neighborhood are already rallying against it.

The diocese, meanwhile, says sorry, sisters, but only Gomez can sell the property, and Perry is his choice, so Hollister better not hang any paintings just yet.

The archdiocese is completing the paperwork on the sale to Perry, who has agreed to pay about $14.5 million, all of it in cash. The mega-rich hit-producing singer reportedly got interested in the property three years ago and has been determined to make it her home.

Say a prayer that Hollister and Perry don’t end up wrestling on the steps of the convent.

Perry seems to have given her all in going after the property, and tried to make a good impression on the nuns at a recent meeting. I’m told that Perry dressed rather conservatively, and according to two of the sisters, she sang “Oh Happy Day” for them and showed them a “Jesus” tattoo on her wrist area. I would have advised her to sing “Kumbayah,” but I’m not in the entourage.

The nuns shrugged, and there have been no happy days since. Just lots of accusations, disagreements and legal filings. Lawyers can’t even agree on who represents the nuns.

What I can tell you for sure is that the diocese has sued Hollister, hoping to have her purchase voided, and last week a court order allowed Perry to visit the property with her architect.


On Friday, I trekked up to the property to visit with two of the nuns. One of them arrived in a shiny black Mini Cooper convertible, chauffeured by Hollister.

That would be Sister Rita Callanan.

She was in full, sky blue habit, complete with headpiece, and so was Sister Catherine Rose, who had just arrived. The nuns hugged each other outside their former convent.

Decades ago, 52 Immaculate Heart sisters lived on the property, which includes the Cardinal Timothy Manning House of Prayer for Priests. But the diocese moved the last of them to other locations in 2011, against their will, according to Sister Catherine Rose.

They are still not happy about that, nor are they happy about the way they are being treated. They pooled their money and bought the property decades ago at a discount from a benefactor, and their biggest fear is that if the diocese cashes in on a sale, the sisters’ living expenses will not be covered. The archdiocese insists that’s not the case at all, but sisters Rita and Catherine Rose don’t trust that promise.

“We have given many years to this archdiocese and we have served them well,” said Sister Rita, citing a proud Immaculate Heart tradition of dedication to education and nursing. “For the archdiocese to ... put us under a bus and run over us, I’m sorry, it was just too much for me.”

The sisters said they have met with Gomez to argue their case. They say that at one point, the archbishop seemed exasperated and told them to proceed as they wished and let him know when they came to a decision about the property.


So they decided to sell, but say they couldn’t get the archbishop’s attention when they tried to tell him — maybe because he was busy closing the deal with Perry.

The nuns knew the archbishop had lined up a buyer who was supposed to be a famous performer, but the name didn’t mean anything to the sisters, who range in age from 77 to 88.

Perry Como, yes; Katy Perry, no. So Sister Rita did a little research on the Internet.

“Well, I found Katy Perry and I found her videos and ... if it’s all right to say, I wasn’t happy with any of it,” said Sister Rita, who told me she would rather not elaborate on her concerns as to whether Perry is a suitable candidate to live in a convent.

When Sister Rita learned that Perry would be performing during the Super Bowl halftime, she tuned in. Perry sang “Teenage Dream,” (Let you put your hands on me. In my skin-tight jeans.) which was not a good choice, given Sister Rita’s careful monitoring of the show. Sister Rita then watched as Perry was lifted off the ground and flew around the stadium as if riding a shooting star.

“I thought, is that a way to make money?” said Sister Rita. “Maybe I could fly around. I could be the flying nun.”

I couldn’t reach Perry for comment.

Gomez’s staff said attorney Michael Hennigan — who represented the archdiocese during the sexual molestation scandal — would speak for him.


Hennigan argued that three of the five sisters have signed declarations supporting Gomez’s right to sell the property. But an attorney retained by Sisters Rita and Catherine Rose suggested that the three may have been coerced or did not understand what they were signing.

Hennigan also said that in 2005, the Vatican placed decision-making power over the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in the hands of a Cardinal Roger Mahony appointee to the post of Pontifical Commissary. Both the law and the Vatican, Hennigan said, are on Gomez’s side.

So it’ll be left to the courts, if not the pope, to figure it all out.

Sister Rita said that at the meeting with Perry in May, the singer made a fairly good impression, telling the nuns she wanted to live on the property with her mother and grandmother, sit in the meditation garden, sip green tea and find herself.

Sister Rita thought that sounded admirable. All the same, I don’t think Sister Rita would be disappointed if the place where Perry finds herself is far, far from the former convent on the hill.