Former seminaries find new life, uses

As Todd Burud made regular visits to the former Holy Name Seminary in Madison, Wisconsin, during the past few years to serve at Mass or to visit diocesan ministries headquartered there, he watched the progress of a renovation project at the massive 53-year-old building.

He showed his wife, Kathy, the high-end apartments taking the place of dorm rooms that hadn’t housed seminarians in more than 20 years. When the couple, both 63, decided to downsize into one of those apartments, they were excited to move down the hall from a chapel containing the Blessed Sacrament and to be a short walk from offices that make up the heart of the diocese.

“How can I convey what it means to walk 50 steps to be with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament at any moment of the day?” Burud asked. “To live with a chapel inside the same building, and to walk down the hallway to daily Mass?”

While the Buruds may eventually need a larger place, as long as they continue living at the seminary apartments, called Holy Name Heights, Todd said he will enjoy the daily “retreat.”

“Apart from joining a religious order, where else could I live with the same palpable sense of being at the center of the diocese, of literally living within the Faith itself?” he asked. “Again, remember, Christ dwells in the tabernacle, inside his father’s house, just down the hall.”

Preserved and repurposed

The Buruds’ apartment is part of a $21-million project in which the Diocese of Madison and its partners have turned underutilized space in the 240,000 square-foot former high school seminary into 53 one- and two-bedroom rental apartments whose occupants bring new vitality and financial stability to the building, said Msgr. James Bartylla, vicar general of the diocese. Their neighbors include Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino, as well as Catholics, non-Catholics, empty nesters and young professional families.

The project, completed last summer — 21 years after the seminary closed for lack of vocations — also brings 95 percent of the diocese’s offices together, along with affiliated Catholic organizations and a catering company for a total of about 150 employees. And it preserves the building’s centerpiece: its large chapel decorated with a large mosaic and stained-glass windows. The new mixed use will enable the diocese to maintain the facility — visible to Madison residents because of its location on a large hill overlooking the city — with its history and acres of walking paths as a landmark for Catholics and the broader community.

Memory and identity

As dioceses across the country consider what to do with buildings they no longer need or can’t maintain, the renovation of the Madison seminary building into Holy Name Heights is a solution not available to all, but is one that preserves a legacy for Madison.

“In order to be missionaries of hope for the world, Pope Francis recently told the youth of the world that they first had to embrace a strong memory of the past which would generate courage to face the present — therefrom comes hope for the future,” said Bishop Morlino. “That profound reflection is embodied in the Holy Name Heights project.”

Since the diocese’s cathedral was badly damaged by fire in 2005, preserving that history has taken on new importance, said Msgr. Bartylla, who also has an apartment in the building. The diocese first considered converting the entire building into apartments but later determined that maintaining the chapel, diocesan offices and the building’s legacy would be possible with a smaller number of apartments that would still help pay for the building’s expenses, he said. “What we determined was best for the Church, for its finances, best for the property and the legacy was this mixed use,” he said.

Holy Name Heights has gone from 20 percent to 100 percent utilization since the renovation, which puts the diocese in positive cash flow, said Gary Gorman, CEO of Gorman & Company Inc., which redeveloped the site and now is managing the rental property. The firm, based in Oregon, Wisconsin, has significant experience in the adaptive reuse of historic buildings. “That building, rather than being looked on as something of a white elephant that the diocese has to carry, is now looked at as a contributing asset, both in terms of a focus point of activity as well as from a financial perspective,” Gorman said of the project.

Adding the apartments provided an opportunity to update the building’s mechanical systems as well, Msgr. Bartylla said. Also, there is a new sense of community. “There is more sense of activity that makes it feel more like the old days of the seminary when the place was open 24/7 and there were always residents on site.”

Because of its history in the community, along with its neo-colonial architecture, cloistered walkways and courtyards, Holy Name Heights has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Other success stories

The Archdiocese of St. Louis also renovated an underutilized seminary building — one of two on what once had been an 800-acre campus in the city, said Bishop Richard F. Stika, now bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee, who, as vicar general and chancellor of the St. Louis archdiocese, was involved in the renovation. Then-Archbishop (now Cardinal) Justin F. Rigali decided in the 1990s that the nearly 100–year-old building would serve as the archdiocesan chancery. Kenrick-Glennon Seminary is nearby.

During the roughly $10 million renovation, two floors were gutted, existing offices reconfigured and the building was brought up to code. Now the building is fully occupied and, with the rent from the offices, is self-sustaining, Bishop Stika said. The building’s history and its St. Vincent de Paul chapel in the center of the building factored into the decision to renovate. The Cardinal Rigali Center was dedicated in 2003.

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In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary is developing a vision for a future model, and part of that vision is to sell the 75-acre seminary campus, which contains buildings dating to 1869, said Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector.

While the seminary buildings are “noble and historic,” they are not suited for the current style of seminary formation and smaller number of seminarians, he said. A plan to renovate one section of the campus and consolidate seminary operations there was deemed too expensive by the seminary’s board of trustees. It hopes to identify another institutional partner by the end of May. Preservation of the seminary’s chapels, which have been visited by Pope Francis in 2015 and Pope St. John Paul II in 1979, has been discussed, said Bishop Senior, who added that he expects they will be included in any negotiation of an eventual sale.

“Perhaps the greatest ‘spiritual value’ of the campus in our lives at the present time is that [it] require[s] us to develop a deeper spirit of detachment and trust in God — to let go and trust God all the more and be more attentive to the promptings of the Spirit,” he said. 

Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.