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The divinely expensive condos sprouting wings around Bloor Street's Mink Mile may have just secured their most hallowed customer of all - God.

He, or rather some of His most devoted representatives here on Earth, will take over a portion of a new multimillion-dollar private condo tower that is scheduled to be built at 77 Charles St. W., south of Bloor, starting this time next year with occupancy in 2010.

Members of Opus Dei, a strict and sometimes secretive lay organization of the Roman Catholic Church immortalized in The Da Vinci Code, will run a private residence for university-age women on the first four floors of the 16-storey building.

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As such, the Canadian branch of Opus Dei (meaning God's Work), which on Wednesday celebrated its 50th anniversary of service in this country with a candlelight mass at St. Michael's Cathedral, is spearheading the development of a unique spiritual sanctuary - an oasis of Christian prayer - in a high-priced area of the city increasingly being given over to the worship of Mammon.

"This is a unique residence in that it is very small," says Virginia Nanouris, project manager of Promotion of Educational Values (PEV), a registered charity.Ms. Nanouris, an active Opus Dei affiliate, is instrumental in the construction of the condo tower at 77 Charles St. to house not only Kintore College and Cultural Centre, as the 20-bed residence will be called, but also the offices and cultural activities of her organization. "We [PEV]are the people who outsource their spiritual activities to Opus Dei."

PEV, which offers a range of services, including free academic tutoring for girls of high-school age and Catholic-inspired seminars such as last year's Back to the Family and the upcoming How to Have a Spectacular Relationship with Your Spouse, has owned 77 Charles St., a site now occupied by Le Lycée Français Toronto, the French-language private school, since 1997, when it bought the 300-by-200-foot lot for $2.3-million.

Now, PEV is selling the land, for an undisclosed price, to Aspen Ridge Homes, the Concord, Ont.-based developer that will build the condo tower. According to Aspen Ridge's Darius Rybak, the condo's project manager, PEV will own the four floors they will occupy as the college and cultural centre. The space will include a main floor auditorium with seating for 90 that will be distinct from the residence and offer public seminars and guest lectures.

Mr. Rybak would not disclose the details of the deal to develop the condo building, which he says will cost about $40-million to build.

The upper floors will accommodate 47 exclusive high-end condo residences, ranging in price from $1.2-million to $9-million.

Their entrance will be separate from that of the Opus Dei residence, with condo residents using separate elevators than those used by the students.

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"The point is for the residence to be private and discreet," Ms. Nanouris, a soft-spoken and duskily attractive ex-Montrealer, says of the dorm, which will feature catered meals in a private dining room, common rooms equipped with televisions and a chapel devoted to Christ.

"It will offer a complement of cultural, professional and current-event programs for the residents and their friends and there will be also spiritual activities entrusted to the prelature of Opus Dei," she says.

"Professionals who are members of Opus Dei will also run the residence on our behalf and the reason for that is to ensure we maintain what we want there - a home away from home with a Christian family atmosphere."

This means that there will be strict rules of moral conduct for residents to follow and nightly curfews.

Such controls are rare at other residences sprinkled across the downtown campus of the University of Toronto, where Kintore College will be located, around the corner from the Catholic-based St. Michael's College and next door to Victoria University, a non-denominational arts and science college.

But the building's association with Opus Dei will be transparent, especially where purchasers are concerned: "We make sure we tell them, up front. But so far no one seems to mind," Mr. Rybak says.

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"Of course we will tell all prospective students what we are about and if they don't want to come, then that is their choice, entirely," Ms. Nanouris says.

"It will be a beautiful condo, unlike any other. I am comparing it to a boutique hotel."

Creating the design is architect Yann Weymouth, who was chief design architect for I.M. Pei's Grand Louvre project in Paris - the glass pyramid featured, as it happens, in The Da Vinci Code.

"That is a pure coincidence," Mr. Rybak says. "When we were searching for an architect, we were looking for someone who can do something different than any other Toronto condo residence. [Mr. Weymouth's]specialty is museums - he has done work also on the Smithsonian - and as far as I know he is not affiliated with Opus Dei, as I am not affiliated with Opus Dei."

Nor does the potential presence of flagellants on the property appear to be causing a dent in sales. While there will be no corporal mortification rooms, as luridly depicted in the Hollywood movie that was based on author Dan Brown's exploration of the Catholic society described by detractors as a cult-like sect, Ms. Nanouris says Opus Dei members at the residence will likely practise mortification in private.

These involve the Discipline, as whipping of the body with a tail of knotted cords is called, or else wearing for two hours daily around the upper thigh a metal cilice, pronounced sillus (the term originally referred only to a hair shirt), a bodily adornment resembling a metal band of thorns reserved for celibates, because it is a requirement of membership.

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"Corporal mortification is not new," explains Ms. Nanouris, a practitioner.

"It is part of the history of the church. But I think it is shocking for people today because they don't understand mortifying the self for spiritual reasons. And yet they do practise mortification when they get up at 6 a.m. to jog or when they go on a diet to look good.

"They are doing this for personal reasons and we are doing it for God," she says. "That's the difference."

*****

Opus Dei

What

A lay Catholic institution founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá in Spain in 1928.

Motto

Finding God in everyday life (Opus Dei is Latin for "God's work").

How

Through acts of charity; following the belief that everyone is called to holiness, not just priests; and, more controversially, through the daily practice of corporal mortification, a voluntary offering of pain to God.

Where

All over the world. In Canada, a prelature of Opus Dei, encouraged by St. Josemaría, took root in Montreal in 1957. There are now 16 centres in five cities: Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

Who

According to Opus Dei, across Canada, there are nearly 600 faithful, mostly married men and women, as well as approximately 1,600 "co-operators."

Other student residences

For men, there's Ernescliffe College on the campus of the University of Toronto. Kintore College and Cultural Centre, also on the campus of U of T, will be the first women's residence affiliated with Opus Dei in Toronto, when it opens in 2010.

Deirdre Kelly

Source: opusdei.org

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