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By Brent King, Communications Director, Diocese of Madison, for the Catholic Herald, September 26, 2013

MADISON — A Madison icon, the former Holy Name Seminary, a neo-colonial revival landmark that welcomed its first students in 1964 and has served as the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center (BOC) since the seminary was closed in 1995, may be transformed into a multi-family housing community, officials at the Diocese of Madison announced September 25.

The diocese signed a letter of intent with Gorman & Company to enter exclusive negotiations for a development contract and 60-year lease agreement to renovate the building as a “certified historic rehabilitation” in compliance with historic preservation guidelines prescribed by the National Park Service.

According to the letter of intent, the Diocese of Madison would retain ownership of the BOC land to be leased, as well as determination over the future use of the approximately 72-acre Bishop O’Connor Center.

The landmark building that would be redeveloped by Gorman would revert to diocesan control at the end of the 60-year lease period. In the interim, the diocese would relocate its administrative offices, and those of Catholic Charities and its family of other tenants, on a mutually convenient date before construction starts.

The diocese retains the right to approve the final redevelopment plan — which calls for residential use — before a binding lease is executed.

Gorman & Company has agreed that the O’Donnell Chapel, located at the center of the building, would be sensitively preserved in a manner consented to by the diocese. Both parties would also jointly approve an appropriate name for the redevelopment that reflects the historic significance of the property, for Catholics of the Madison Diocese.

Looking to future

In commending the potential of the BOC redevelopment project, for the future of the diocese and the partnership with Gorman & Company, Bishop Robert C. Morlino observed: “While giving thanks to God for all His gifts in the past, and for the tremendous blessings of the present, this project allows us, in a very concrete way, to look forward to the Church in the future.

“Although growth nearly always involves some level of sacrifice, this project, carried out with an excellent partner, will allow the Church to preserve, for the long term, Her material goods, while focusing most urgently on that which is most precious — the faith of Her people.”

The diocese’s decision to sign a letter of intent with Gorman & Company to repurpose the building is grounded in years of due diligence through its committee and leadership structure to determine the future of the aging and underutilized seminary building.

A strategic stewardship plan for the BOC’s assets is a key element in supporting the diocese’s goals, including the cultivation of future Church leadership through the dynamic growth of the diocese’s seminarian program, which has quintupled under the direction of Bishop Morlino in the past 10 years.

Engaged experts

As part of its multi-staged evaluation process, the diocese engaged several recognized experts, including Kothe Real Estate Partners and zumBrunnen — a national leader in facilities forecasting — to assess the financial viability of the BOC and to help forge viable options to address the building’s aging structural and systems issues.

Among the findings by the diocese’s consultants were that the Bishop O’Connor Center will require over $15 million in capital improvements during the next 30 years, but only sustain an average projected building utilization rate of 36 percent.

Despite the diocese’s strategies of diversifying the tenant base, which includes administrative offices for the diocese and other Catholic non-profit organizations, apartment suites for active and retired priests, conference and meeting space, retreat guest rooms, as well as a catering business — the 232,000-square-foot building was never designed for mixed use and offers only 59 percent leasable space, creating an ongoing operating challenge.

Diocesan officials observed that the concept to repurpose the building as housing (which was proposed by Gary Gorman after the diocese approached him for assistance in identifying sensitive and reality-based solutions) offers a singular opportunity for a historically sensitive development that is highly compatible with the neighborhood and guided by a local Catholic developer who has established a national reputation and outstanding track record for award-winning historic preservation projects:

“In a search for a respectful, viable, and exciting solution for the future use of the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, we prudently sought professional advice from internal and external leadership. Ultimately, this led to seeking the expertise of Gary Gorman based on his leadership and involvement with Catholic Charities and All Saints Senior Neighborhood, along with his extensive professional experience on a national scale with adaptive reuse of significant and historic buildings through Gorman and Company, Inc.,” remarked Msgr. James Bartylla, vicar general of the Diocese of Madison.

“Gary’s creative proposed solution of adaptive reuse of the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, that retains diocesan ownership, respects the historic legacy of the property, and compliments the character of the neighborhood and needs of the community, is a testament not only to his professionalism but also his active Catholic faith. We’re grateful for his critical contribution to this proposed project.”

If the Gorman development moves forward, diocesan officials predict savings on BOC operations in the range of $500,000 annually, as well as a positive revenue stream over the life of the lease to help sustain its numerous ministries and parishes throughout the diocese.

For more information about the Diocese of Madison, its mission, outreach, and apostolates, visit

Priests comment on proposal
Msgr. Michael Burke, pastor, St. Maria Goretti Parish, Madison

“My priesthood has been linked for over 40 years to the building, grounds, and wonderful history of the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center: as a student, instructor, vocation director/recruiter, and rector of Holy Name Seminary for 19 years, as well as being the current pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish area in which the center is located. For nearly two decades after the closing of Holy Name Seminary, we have seen many noble and worthy attempts to operate the facility as effectively and efficiently as possible, even though its large size and initial design as a seminary doesn’t lend itself to such a use. I’ve been a member of the finance council of the Diocese of Madison and for over two years we have investigated with diocesan staff, Bishop Morlino, and consultants to come up with a proposal on the effective use of this property. Today’s proposal before Bishop Morlino and the Diocese of Madison presents us with the opportunity to retain ownership of the building and property, reduce our operating and capital costs, design more modern, cost effective and efficient office space for diocesan personnel, and carefully weigh how this beloved property may benefit the Diocese of Madison in the future.

“My dad took me to the dedication of the seminary 50 years ago. Bishop O’Connor, Bishop Hastrich, Bishop O’Donnell, and Bishop Wirz gave their life and ministry to this sacred property. If Bishop Morlino approves this proposal it will greatly honor the efforts of these Bishops and all the people who have been associated with this sacred ground. May the Holy Spirit and Holy Name of Jesus continue to guide us in the future. Keep hope alive.”

Msgr. Daniel Ganshert, pastor, St. Henry Parish and St. Bernard Parish, Watertown

“Fifty years ago the people of the Diocese of Madison contributed to the construction of a building to honor the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

“For me it has become a brick and mortar sermon on the mount where countless people continue to be blessed by its existence. This new development will assure its future as a landmark for generations to come.”

Fr. Randy Timmerman, pastor, St. Dennis Parish, Madison; Holy Name Seminary graduate

“This plan is courageous for the needs of today and prudent for the future of the diocese.”