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C.S. Lewis Study Center coming to Northfield

Informal open house today

Recorder/Paul Franz
The C.S. Lewis Foundation has offered to buy Green Pastures, a 14-room Victorian at 199 Main St. in Northfield, which is owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School. The organization wants to establish a scholars’ residence and C.S. Lewis study center.

Recorder/Paul Franz The C.S. Lewis Foundation has offered to buy Green Pastures, a 14-room Victorian at 199 Main St. in Northfield, which is owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School. The organization wants to establish a scholars’ residence and C.S. Lewis study center.

NORTHFIELD — The original group that had hoped to take over the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus will be coming to town after all.

“Our plan is to establish a scholars’ residence, and C.S. Lewis study center, just as we have in Oxford, England,” said J. Stanley Mattson, president and founder of the C.S. Lewis Foundation.

“We’re coming to Northfield, at long last.”

Green Pastures, a 14-room Victorian close to the campus, will serve as that study center.

The space will be used to host resident writers and scholars, as well as educators on sabbatical, as well as conferences and special events like evening concerts, poetry readings, and discussion groups. It will also feature programs available to the surrounding community, such as lectures, “great books” seminars, and performing arts events.

Named for late evangelist and author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series, C.S. Lewis, the foundation aims to carry on Lewis’ legacy, and to form a “great books” college in his honor. It had hoped to use the Northfield campus for 450 students, with a future performing arts school to host another 450.

Mattson said the Green Pastures building has been “beautifully maintained,” and he doesn’t expect it to need extensive repairs.

It will, however, need to be renovated. Though it originally served as a residence, the building had been converted to office space by NMH. The foundation will soon begin to turn those offices back to living quarters.

Mattson said he expects work on Green Pastures to begin by year’s end.

Plans to start the first C.S. Lewis College on the sprawling rural campus fell through, but the center will give the foundation a foot in the door of New England. The group isn’t giving up the dream of a C.S. Lewis College, and the building will house an office for the group’s college foundation.

The foundation may be based in California, but Mattson said he feels the Pioneer Valley is the perfect place for the college, and he still hopes to establish it in the region.

“This step marks a small but significant move towards the ultimate goal of establishing C.S. Lewis College in the Pioneer Valley and Five College Region,” said Mattson. “We envision Green Pastures as a gathering place for Christian hospitality, study, and conversation.”

Though it’s steeped in Moody’s history, the building is not part of the Moody campus proper. The future of the adjacent 217-acre campus and its 43 buildings remains uncertain.

The campus was bought in 2009 by Hobby Lobby Stores, a craft store chain owned by Oklahoma billionaires and Christian philanthropists the Green family. The Greens spent more than $6 million renovating and repairing the property, and intended to give it to the C.S. Lewis Foundation.

The group had hoped to establish the first C.S. Lewis College on the former prep school campus, but was unable to meet a $5 million fundraising goal set by the Greens. The Greens sought another recipient, but plans to give the property to Grand Canyon University fell through. In January, the family gave the property to the National Christian Foundation, which was tasked with finding a permanent owner. The NCF hopes to announce finalists this year.

Though Green Pastures is empty at the moment, Mattson is eager to invite the foundation’s neighbors in, address their questions, and speak to the history of the property.

The C.S. Lewis Foundation will hold an informal open house from 2 to 5 p.m. today at Green Pastures, 199 Main St. Mattson, and project point-person Mary Key, will attend, as well as others from the foundation.

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