GANDARA.— The package of lactal bread is passed from hand to hand between the three boys who are sitting on some steps, in the heat of the last rays of the afternoon sun that is fading away. The sandwiches are made with the bread that they brought from a pantry in Altamirano, a town near Chascomús, along with a grapefruit soda and some spirits to face the cold of the night. “I didn’t want to stay the night, but these two insisted on me,” says one of them, somewhat fearfully, pointing to his most unprejudiced friends. Those two were convinced of spending the night outdoors, in the ruins of an abandoned chapel and convent that allows them to fantasize about stories of apparitions and spirits, like many boys in the area.
The place looks like a devastated town, evacuated in the middle of a war. For decades, orphans and boarding school children occupied the rooms that still keep the cots stacked and rusting. are the ruins Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel and the building that housed the San José Apostolic Collegelocated in the Gándara area, where there are also the ruins of the former dairy factory that had its heyday in the 90s.
Like almost everything found in Gándara, the chapel and the school are uninhabited, unused, abandoned at different times. The building has an astonishing magnitude in the middle of a property surrounded by trees with lush vegetation, with a lot of open land around it. The walls remain firm, although the humidity paints them with green moss. The cold inside is felt from the open windows.
According to the records of the Casa de Casco Historiographical Institute, in Chascomús, the chapel was commissioned by the family of Francisco José Monasteriograndson of Leonardo Domingo de la Gándara, to the architect Alejandro Bustillo, the creator of the Bristol de Mar del Plata complex that includes the central casino and the Provincial Hotel. Gándara fought as an officer in the English invasions, had to go into exile in Uruguay and, returning in 1844, dedicated himself to rural tasks on the lands he had acquired near Chascomús. This is how the Gándara area was born.
The temple was inaugurated on September 26, 1938 and later the attached seminary was built, blessed in April 1940 as the San José Apostolic College by the Augustinian Recollect Fathers. At the ceremony, which was attended by the then Vicar General of the Archbishopric of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Fortunato Devoto, the keys were handed over.
“The Augustinian Fathers, followers of the teachings of Saint Augustine, installed a Minor Seminary, philosophizing, novitiate and theology. They also cared for orphans who began to arrive before the inauguration, in March 1939.staying there until 1954. The place was totally uninhabited in 1960″, it is described in documents of the time.
The house with sober lines had classrooms, bedrooms, reading rooms, kitchen, playground, garden and bathrooms, all spaces distributed over two floors. The chapel still retains much of its traditional ornamentation. On the altar there are images of Christ, two rows of wooden benches are on both sides of a central aisle, the baptismal font is intact and so are the confessionals.
Although the place is abandoned, it still preserves a good part of the elements that were used by orphaned children or people who held seminars or spiritual retreats, and also by school students. Are there trampolines in the rooms, chairs, furniture and bathrooms intact with images of Christ appearing on the walls. “Glory to God in Heaven” reads a rag thrown on the floor of one of the bedrooms.
The ruins can also be seen in the sectors of the school that maintain part of the furniture, the blackboards painted on the walls and even a small auditorium with a stage where the tin ceiling is falling apart, as are the rotten wooden floors. The vandalism seems to have accelerated the decomposition of the place. Among dark corridors, only illuminated by the little sunlight that enters, remains of rituals, birthday banners and messages such as “souls will be purged”.
A certain secrecy surrounds the history of the chapel and the school that were transferred to the Diocese of La Plata in 1974 until the Chascomús Bishopric was created. THE NATION He contacted the Bishopric of Chascomús, but at the closing of this note he had not received any answers.
“The great cost that its maintenance implied, added to the dilapidated state, since its use was temporary for the celebration of retreats and religious gatherings, caused the ornaments and elements of the chapel to be removed,” say people in Chascomús linked to the history of the place. They also reveal that the Bishopric “is always concerned or busy with the use of the building and although there were some proposals, none of them could be finalized; though it is expected that a project may arise to rescue the heritage value of the building”.
The religious complex is located near the Gandara railway station where the trains that link Mar del Plata with Constitución and Alejandro Korn with Chascomús pass and a few meters from a general store and vehicle spare parts also abandoned. Almost everything is like this in the place, except for a unit of the Rural Patrol and a few houses where a handful of people who still resist in the place live.
In Gándara is the dairy factory of the same name, which was one of the most powerful in Argentina in the 1990s, with a daily production of 136,000 liters of yogurt and 42 tons of dulce de leche, among other products. From those glorious years, only the dilapidated junk of the factory that is closed, being scrapped little by little, and the row of houses in front of the property, where some of the employees lived, remain. Only one is occupied, inhabited by Oscar Sueldía and his wife, Stella Maris Gravano, a former employee of Gándara who is a kind of custodian of the place.
The land where the place is located belonged to the aforementioned De la Gándara who, in 1823, bought several hectares in the vicinity of the Vitel lagoon where the place began to grow. The landowner, before dying, transferred the land to his sons, who gave it over for different uses, and thus the train station, a neighborhood school, the monastery, the dairy factory, general stores, clubs, and grocery stores were born. The decline of the place was slow and agonizing, at the same rate that the stormy end of the factory was approaching, in November 2007.