The Madison Catholic Diocese has reached a tentative agreement with a developer to vacate its headquarters at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center on the city’s Far West Side and turn the former seminary into rental housing.

Under the plan, the diocese will lease the building for 60 years to developer Gary Gorman, whose company will renovate the 232,000-square-foot structure and create 100 to 150 apartments. The diocese will retain ownership of the property.

Bishop Robert Morlino announced the plan to about 120 priests gathered Wednesday in Wisconsin Dells for an annual meeting.

The decision is not because of budget problems, said Monsignor James Bartylla, the diocese’s second in command. Rather, the aging O’Connor Center, 702 S. High Point Road, is underused and would require more than $15 million in capital improvements over the next 30 years to keep it as the diocese’s headquarters, he said.

This is the best way to preserve the legacy of a landmark building while being good stewards of church finances, Bartylla said.

“It strikes a balance between the economics of the situation and preserving the history of the diocese,” he said.

Diocesan officials expect to save an estimated $500,000 annually by getting out from under the costs of operating the center. In addition, the lease agreement will provide revenue to fund church activities, diocesan spokesman Brent King said. The lease amount has not been set but likely will vary over the course of the agreement, he said.

If the plan goes through, it will be a for-profit venture by Gorman & Company, and the property would return to the tax rolls, King said. “This is only just and reasonable,” he said.

Only about 36 percent of the building’s square footage is being used right now, Bartylla said.

The diocese will need to find a new home for its administrative offices, including the bishop’s office. Catholic Charities also is based at the center. Together, about 100 people work at the site, King said.

A new site has not yet been found for the offices. It likely will be leased space, not existing diocesan property, because no parish would have the amount of square footage needed, Bartylla said.

Additionally, the O’Connor Center is home to four retired priests and five active priests. New quarters will be found for them, King said.

The chapel, located in the center of the building, will be preserved, but its use in the future has not been determined, Bartylla said.

At the end of the 60 years, the building would revert to diocesan control. A firmer development agreement is expected by Nov. 15.

The lease agreement would cover only about 10 acres of the 72-acre Bishop O’Connor Center site, Bartylla said. No decisions have been made on the future of the other acres, he said.

Realistically, renovation likely would not begin until next summer or fall, said Gary Gorman, chief executive officer. The company anticipates spending $30 million to $40 million to renovate the building, he said.

Gorman said the rental housing would be for the general public, not targeted to Catholics. He envisions it appealing to “working people on the West Side who don’t want to live in a generic white box — people who want to live somewhere interesting.”

The company will renovate the building as a “certified historic rehabilitation,” in accordance with historic preservation guidelines prescribed by the National Park Service, Gorman said.

Gorman has a long history of working with the diocese as a developer. Additionally, he has served as a board member and board president of Catholic Charities. He attends Holy Mother of Consolation Parish in Oregon.

The Bishop O’Connor Center was first known as Holy Name Seminary, opening to students in 1964. The seminary closed in 1995.

Both parties will jointly approve a name for the redeveloped site.

“The time is right to consider how best to use that place for the ministry of the church,” said the Rev. Paul Arinze, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Beloit. “When the bishop was talking to us, he reminded us that we are like fathers at home — you have a wife and children and must constantly make decisions based on what’s best for the future of the family.”

Sure, there is sentimental value to the building, said Monsignor Daniel Ganshert, pastor of two parishes in Watertown and among the first students at Holy Name Seminary. But priests recognize that change is part of life and part of the ministry, he said.

“I’m just happy the building is still going to be there,” he said. “It’s going to stand there like it has for the last 50 years and remind us and encourage us to look to the future of the diocese and its people.”

Education and religion reporter

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(34) comments

KathyD
KathyD

“The time is right to consider how best to use that place for the ministry of the church,” said the Rev. Paul Arinze, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Beloit. “When the bishop was talking to us, he reminded us that we are like fathers at home — you have a wife and children and must constantly make decisions based on what’s best for the future of the family.”

They have to take care of those helpless wives?? Is this representative of the church's thinking these days?

Herman Nudic
Herman Nudic

This is another fine spot you've got me into Ollie! What a bunch of double talk. Not for budget reasons? The first thing out of their mouths was the expected outlays over the next 30 years. Sounds like budget issues to me! Obviously other than planning on what's for dinner and what wine to have with it, this is way over their heads.

Supposidly this will save them 1/2 million per year. Let's see how much the parish taxes will go gone...Oh we're not suppose to talk about that. Some how the two previous bishops were able to build and operate it!. What are the expenses going to be for the school reteats, marriage encounter weekends, gym and ball field usage for the countless grade schools without access to these? How about our retired priest who live there? No more teacher conferences or trainng sessions for all the religious ed teachers out there. Who's going to pick up these expenses...the parishes of course!

Now the most visible asset of the diocese will be placed in the hands of a third party. Fortunatly the Gorman company is one of the more reputable developers in the area. Ol'Bob and his merry band of incompetent enabelers will have tied the hands of the suceeding bishop's for decades to come. Cathedral gone, Chancery gone, O'Connor center gone. This building is the most visible statement of the importance of the Catholic Church in the area. Now the Catholic Church will have no visible presence in Madison or the diocese outside of the individual churches. Ironic that the one program that he tried to close, the Multicultiural Center will now become the most visible presence of the Catholic Church. Maybe it's only appropriate given our new Pope.

There is no doubt the Pickled Prince from Scanton PA, as he's know in higher circles, has pretty much eliminated any visible presence of the Catholic Church. The Madison secularists have won!

Yes, the builing has fallen in disrepair. The care intrusted to them has been squandered. The last time I was out there the place was dirty and the common rooms were a mess. They have no sense of responsibilty. It's all about Bob. His legacy will be one of alienation and failure.

Not about bugetary reasons? He found away to give away $1 million to Relevant Radio and flew the whole seminary crowd to Australia and was happy about a 47% shortfall to the inital ACA goal which led to many good employees losing their jobs, only too be replaced by additional incompetent cronies of his.

Why doesn't he come clean. How much is left in the St. Joseph, St. Raphael and Chancery accounts? He won't beause the patrimony of the diocese has been and will continue to be wasted on his own opulant life style.

Cricket17
Cricket17

I'm with Ariel12 & alacwx. This is similar to the situation at Holy Redeemer Church in Downtown Madison, where the historic parish house/school is being gutted to make way for public housing for UW students (not all of whom will be Catholic). Many of the charitable, social & educational activities that took place in the former parish house were abruptly terminated, as no other suitable facilities could be found. This has been particularly hard on Hispanic Catholics from around the diocese--that parish house served as their community center. I have no doubt Bishop Morlino is a good & a holy man. But he seems to have surrounded himself with a lot of inept money managers who may not have the best of spiritual intentions.

Samantha
Samantha

@Cricket, you may have no doubt that Bishop Morlino is "a good and holy man", but most of the rest of us who are active in our churches have come to realize otherwise over the past 10 years. It's not about the Church, it's not about the people, it's not about the poor and needy. It's ALL about Robert Morlino. And you are 100% correct that he has surrounded himself with a lot of inept managers - it is almost exclusively managed by long term cronies who hang on every word he utters, as they have no hope of employment anywhere else. These people are as responsible as Morlino himself for the steady downhill slide this diocese has taken over Morlino's era. It is truly, truly sad.

Ariel12
Ariel12

@byanke: Please DO tell us all which 2 of the 4 facilities I mentioned in my post down below burned down. I'm eagerly awaiting your learned answer.

Only the cathedral burned down - not the Bishop's Bay property, not the downtown chancery, and not the O'Connor Center.

As far as my basic point - which you can't grasp - is concerned, just what does the diocese have to show for the cathedral? Is there a new one? No. Was the money used to build or fund something else worthwhile? No. Where is the insurance money from the cathedral fire? Who knows. Bottom line: There is nothing whatsoever to show for the loss of the cathedral to the diocese, and there won't be with Robert Morlno as bishop. Even he admits it.

And since your such a learned expert, please tell us just what the diocese has to show for the loss of the chancery building, Bishop's Bay, and the O'Connor Center.

And please don't waste your arrogant time telling me who or what to spend my money on. I'm not about to write a "fat check", a skinny check, or any other kind of check to an operation as poorly run as the diocesan offices. Got it?

alacwx
alacwx

While I completely agree the building is underused and could definitely benefit from other use, it doesn't have my complete support yet. If we had a cathedral I would definitely be more on board with this project. However, without the BOC or a cathedral, our diocese really doesn't have a "central" location. It's been almost 10 years since the cathedral burnt down, and yet there hasn't been a decision made on what to do about that. I would have liked to seen a decison made about that before the assessed the situation at the BOC.

RainyJane
RainyJane

It's probably haunted.

barefoot
barefoot

As an atheist kid, I recall seeing the center on a distant hilltop, separated from the city by fields and trees, with no obvious roads leading to it. I used to imagine the priests, nuns, or monks walking the grounds in harmonious bliss, something out of Sound of Music. I figured the building was as old as it was epic, brimming with wonderful tales of spirituality and magic.

Then the city sprawled around it, the seminary closed, the church was disgraced, and now they're going to convert it to apartments. So much for the magic.

Cricket17
Cricket17

The diocese has spent a great deal of money over the past 20 years renovating the O'Connor Center. (The chapel, itself, was given a "facelift" only a year or 2 ago.) Significant rental payments must be paid to relocate all the different offices presently located there, housing for priests, parking & so forth. To say nothing of the loss of income from renting out the property to conference groups. All of these expenditures will cut into any anticipated profits. Something doesn't quite add up, here.

I don't understand the current obsession with rental/income property at the expense of the spiritual life of the diocese. It seems to me a case of misplaced priorities.

byanke
byanke

Misplaced priorities? I think you can make that accusation only after you pay the $1/2 million per year to keep it open.

I've spent A LOT of time there, and I can tell you I, this will be a much better use of that space. The building isn't in great condition, despite the looks.

Likewise with the cathedral project downtown: that building was simply unsafe. I've been there multiple times. Again, it's about using the space in the best way possible.

dvieth
dvieth

Cool, an apartment complex with a football field on the grounds.

gdp
gdp

And there should go tax-exempt status for the property/rental. We don't need mortmain here.

MadisonCitizen
MadisonCitizen

Wow - why is everyone so negative this morning? Here is my take.

Underutilized space will be better utilized. More property taxes will be paid. No mention of TIF dollars. More dense, in-fill housing. Church makes money and gains a long term asset. Developer makes money and pays taxes on profits.

Nothing is perfect but this sounds like a positive development.

number6
number6

'At the end of the 60 years, the building would revert to diocesan control.' Right.In fact, I remember reading in 1953 that the seminary was going to be converted into apartments in 2013.

VVisconsin08
VVisconsin08

Personally, I think that whole campus should remain used as an educational campus. It seems like the perfect suburban (but not) campus. Expand MATC's presence in the west site if town. Area has plenty of room for growth. Apartments just don't seem right to me. .

happydays
happydays

wow - these could be great apartments!!!

joe kallas
joe kallas

The seminary should have remained as a center to educate the church's leaders. It should not have closed in 1995 and it is a slap in the face to many people that it will be totally transformed into apartments. For someone who was in the first class at the seminary this news story reads like an obituary. It's a sad day for many in the Madison diocese.

byanke
byanke

Again, that sounds nice to say, but it wasn't financially viable. Things like educational centers cost money. We have ton be good stewards of the property we have. Becoming an income stream for the diocese, instead of a financial sink-hole, seems a to be a better option to me, not a slap in the face. Sometimes, we have to move on.

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

A facility that size, 64% unused!?

Man, those tax exemptions really reward inefficiency, don't they?

So, if the Catholic Church retains ownership of the property, will Gary Gorman have to pay property taxes on it once it's commercialized, or is this the sweetest deal imaginable for him?

Hogzilla
Hogzilla

Ricky~ The unused portion is the reason this all came up. Nobody I have ever met actually wants to be a priest. I think people come to that conclusion after quite a bit of soul searching these days. It didn't used to be that way.

Now days, the hot topic seems to be "church planters". I have met some of them and they seem alright to me. I don't get that into God talks, mostly because it's boring and I am not a firm believer.

That said, if religion keeps people occupied, so be it. I really don't care what people believe in. I wonder why you care so much and why you think your life would have gone one way or the other and what you can point to as a success?

Not believing in anything makes people bitter.

Ya' gotta have somethin' to believe in.

I fell in love with a guitar player of Jewish, Spanish, Irish and Swedish decent.
I am not even gay, but if I was gay, I would be gay for Jerry. That never bothered me, and it never will. I just love the music that he and the various gangs made.

Jerry was one of a kind.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZsMmTFqSwI

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

Well, this ramble probably seems to you to be relevant in some way to the main story, but I'm not sure what prompted you to think it was in any way a "Reply" to the tax issues I raised.

But then, your referring to me as "Ricky" (a nickname my dad put his foot down on when I was 2 days old and a maternity nurse called me by it) shows that you don't really care much about relevance or insight.

byanke
byanke

Richard, that's the whole reason they're doing this, because the space is inefficient.

Hogzilla
Hogzilla

ITT~ People love to bash Catholics.

I remember when the seminary was a seminary. I was never the most devout Catholic, but I never saw all of the hate that they supposedly spew. I went to their grade schools and went to church, I thought the education was alright, certainly not worse than my pub school counterparts received. The church part never caught on with me, but I never saw any reason to curb anyone else that enjoyed it.

Given how much land the county buys that takes it off the tax rolls, I don't see the value in arguing that this should be any different. It seems like a portion of it will be taxed, which is fine. I also don't see how these will be luxury apartments. They'll be decent places for decent people and we'll be able to keep a portion of green space on a cluttered far west side.

I don't think anyone loses here.

ArchieBunkersKidBrother
ArchieBunkersKidBrother

ITT~ People love to bash Catholics.


Two words explain that: Pedophile Priests.

Cornelius Gotchberg
Cornelius Gotchberg

@ABKB;

What an incredible coincidence, that's the exactly same reason that people like to bash teachers.

Their Unions protect them from scrutiny and defend them from prosecution.

It's deja vue all over agian!

The Gotch

byanke
byanke

Can we quit these emotional arguments and use facts? Statistically speaking, a child is safer with a priest then his/her own parents. The percentage of abusers in other professions is much higher.

Can we be done with this narrative?

madcitydude
madcitydude

so back on the property tax rolls or somehow exempt?

brownrecluse
brownrecluse

any property tax going to be generated by this ? snickering here......

guirkymondo
guirkymondo

Dear Bishop Morlino, The Pope just said that he would prefer all Catholic properties be turned into housing for refugees and the poor. Did you not get the memo? Or, do you choose not to follow the vicar of Christ on earth, the INFALLIBLE Pope. If the latter, you may want to stock up on asbestos clothing for where you are headed.

hlf1979
hlf1979

The money for settlements has to come from somewhere.

Ariel12
Ariel12

Hmm. Let me see now....

The Bishop's Bay property - gone.
The downtown chancery - gone.
The cathedral - gone.
Now the O'Connor Center - gone for 60 years.

Sounds like a really well run operation. And, just what do they have to show after disposing of all these properties? Well, that would seem to be nothing.

guirkymondo
guirkymondo

True! But, the priests, bishops and cardinals seem to be living high on the hog. The nuns -- at least in our community -- are living like paupers. It's really disgusting the way the male hierarchy is "glorified"...and how the nuns "glorify God" by working so very, VERY hard to spread the message of God's love. I'll bet if you made priests/bishops/cardinals live like the nuns do, there would be NO male hierarchy in the Catholic church (except the Pope and some Jesuits).

Samantha
Samantha

There are some priests who live humbly and work for the good of their parishes and for the poor and the needy. But they are indeed fewer and fewer of them. No diocesan priest would ever consent to live as poorly as the highest living nuns live. It's shameful. And Morlino's lifestyle is nothing less than appalling.

byanke
byanke

That's sure a logical way to analyze things. Two of the four you mention were burned down, and will be rebuilt. Like the diocese planned to have them burned down.

Since you seem to be against the lack of a cathedral, feel free to write a fat check to rebuild it, if you think it's that important.

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