(First published in the May 30, 2019 issue of City Pages)
The Everest Inn will become a Catholic convent, as the Torkkos retire from the bed and breakfast business
The Rev. Canon Aaron Huberfeld of St. Mary’s Oratory, which bought the Everest Inn from Lori and David Torkko.
The priest hadn’t quite finished saying why this home was an answer to his prayers when Lori Torkko piped up, “It’s an answer to our prayers, for sure.”
The priest is the Rev. Canon Aaron Huberfeld from St. Mary’s Oratory on Grand Avenue. The “home” purchase Huberfeld is leading refers to the long-standing bed and breakfast, Everest Inn, at McIndoe and Sixth Street in Wausau, which will become a convent for three nuns. Lori and Dave Torkko have owned Everest Inn for 21 years.
It’s a story filled with twists.
The Torkkos are Lutherans but have known the Institute of Christ the King priest for 16 years. Back in 2003, he was considering a vocation in the priesthood and came to St. Mary’s Oratory, spending several months in discernment making the decision. When Huberfeld’s parents came to visit him, “They stayed in that room right over there,” Huberfeld says in a conversation in the inn’s front room.
The Torkkos had no idea if they’d see Huberfeld again. Their acquaintance was renewed when he returned to Wausau eight years later as a priest down the street. When his church superiors visited Wausau, Huberfeld recommended they stay at the Everest Inn, too. They were the ones who later suggested the church purchase the place.
The sale nearly didn’t happen. A year-and-a-half ago the Torkkos thought they were retiring when they sold the business to an out-of-state couple. It was a good thing Torkkos love the neighborhood so much that, after leaving the Everest Inn, they bought the smaller place next door. Health problems prevented the new owners from operating the business for long, and less than a year later, the Torkkos had it back.
The Everest Inn is part of the Andrew Warren Historic District, listed on the state and national registry of historic places. The eight bedroom Queen Anne-style home was built in 1908, and was the home of D.C. Everest and his wife, Rita, from 1914 to 1926.
As a convent, the building will have even more history. When they were together last week, Huberfeld and the Torkkos were talking about where the nuns’ chapel would go and figuring out what kind of wood was used in an antique cabinet the priest had found on Craigslist. The sacristy cabinet somehow had made its way from the first Catholic church in Wausau to a home on the city’s west side. Huberfeld also purchased an antique cabinet that priests at that time used to store their vestments. “This has to be from the old log cabin church that was set up in the 1850s,” he says.
The Everest Inn building will be the first house set up in the United States for nuns in the order Sister Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ. How did that happen here? Part of the reason lies in what Huberfeld describes as “Wausau’s little miracle.” Seven women from St. Mary’s Oratory joined that order. Huberfeld doesn’t know yet if any of the first three nuns coming to this convent have Wausau roots. There’s room for seven nuns, so Catholic church leaders hope it will grow.
The order is independent of, but parallel to, the Institute of Christ the King, which is based in Italy, where the mother superior resides. Huberfeld says the nun residents will have a “semi-contemplative” life, meaning lots of time in prayer, but also a role at the church leaning toward work with children and young women.
A new convent in the U.S. might be considered an oddity, considering the shrinking number of “women religious” and their institutes. CatholicPhilly.com reported last year that the number of women religious in the U.S. has declined from 181,421 in 1965 to below around 47,000 now; and an estimated 300 institutes will phase out within a decade.
When the sale closes today, Thursday, May 30, it will wrap up a time the Torkkos have enjoyed thoroughly. Both of them are “people” persons and say even without the B&B they bought in 1998, they always seemed to have someone living with them: a foreign exchange student, a newly assigned minister and others. Prior to the Everest Inn, Lori was a volunteer and active parent. Dave came to Wausau as a banker and for 30 years was a real estate agent. For 15 years, they owned the Karmelkorn-Subwich Station in the Wausau Center mall.
In retirement, they plan to do more local volunteer work and would like to travel to every presidential library in the United States.
Huberfeld smiles every time he talks about the situation. “Everything came together providentially,” he says.