The dust, piles of earth and construction machinery outside the Sacred Heart Monastery in Franklin aren’t an attractive sight, but Mary Gorski, communications director of the U.S Province, Priests of the Sacred Heart couldn’t be happier.
“It’s hard to envision anything right now with dirt all over the place from the construction,” she said, “but the vision for the complex is very nice.”
Construction of the $12.8 million retirement community began Dec. 14 on the 14-acre Sacred Heart of Monastery Lake property located at 7330 S. Highway 100, across from Sacred Heart School of Theology. This community will be located on the same property as the current Villa Maria, a retirement community for members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
A portion of Villa Maria originally housed the Benedictine Sisters from Yankton, S.D., who provided domestic services for the priests and brothers at Sacred Heart Monastery. Later, the house was a residence for the provincial superior and was eventually remodeled into the priest retirement complex.
The multi-phased project will include a 180-unit apartment building that would house active and retired priests as well as members of the public age 55 and older. Most units will have a private balcony or patio. All include fully appointed kitchens, private laundry facilities, storage and spacious floor plans; some will include elevated ceilings. The complex will feature a large chapel for Mass and religious services, as well as for other programs. The former convent, on the grounds of the original Sacred Heart Monastery, will be razed to make way for a new retirement community.
Overlooking Monastery Lake, the campus will be integrated into the peaceful nature conservancy adjacent to it. The retreat-like setting of religious shrines and monuments will allow for quiet prayer and meditation throughout the year.
According to Gorski, the first wing for the retired priests and brothers is scheduled for completion in September, and the second and third phases, with apartments for the public, will be available in the summer of 2011. All wings will feed into a common “Main Street” which will be the heart of the community. Residents will have access to heated, underground parking, and elevators will be available throughout the complex.
“The 165 one- and two-bedroom units designed for the general public will be sized and priced for a variety of needs and income levels,” she said. “As the general population ages, there is an increased need for good housing options for seniors. A project like Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake offers seniors a comfortable living space, as well as on-site services such as a bank, media center, beauty shop, craft room, guest suite, coffee bar and group activities. Such services not only benefit the general pubic, but our senior priests and brothers as well. Added to these conveniences are the chapel and opportunities for prayer and liturgy.”
Looking into the aging Baby Boomer population, the retirement community will fulfill a significant need within the southwestern corner of Milwaukee County, and Gorski admitted that the residence might appeal to retired diocesan priests and religious.
“The Priests of the Sacred Heart looked at the wider needs of the local community, but also of our religious community,” she said. “More room was needed not only for our senior priests and brothers, but the SCJs also hoped to find a larger living space for our non-retired members. Currently, SCJ priests and brothers live in a variety of locations in the Milwaukee area. As the province sought to address the needs of seniors, it was decided to also look at developing a new community for the non-retired, to meet these two needs together.”
While private community space will be available for the SCJ retired religious, the opportunity for fellowship with public members of the residence will offer opportunities for social activities and friendship.
“With the mobility challenges that seniors often face, especially in the winter months, having the ability to interact with others within a short walk of one’s living space is a wonderful benefit,” said Gorski. “And, as with lay residents, members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart will be able to take part in a variety of social activities that a larger complex can offer.”
Provincial treasurer, Deacon David Nagel, SCJ, and priests and brothers living on the current Sacred Heart campus are looking forward to the retirement complex and watching its progress. As with all that they do, the project began with prayers of thanksgiving.
“The first thing that was done was the removal of several trees in front of the existing house,” he said. “A prayer service was held to mark the occasion so that the fellows could mourn the passing of these trees that were planted by the early fathers and brothers who opened Sacred Heart Monastery on that site in 1929.”
Before its demolition Jan. 20, a Mass was held in the old wing and retirees shared memories. As the earth moved, prospective residents, including a missionary bishop, contacted Deacon Nagel looking for information on the new complex.
“The bishop has returned to the United States and is looking for a place to retire,” he said, adding, “Also, one of our priests, Fr. Frank, is working in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He is 73 and ready to retire. He asked me to hurry the building along.”
Word of the facility is spreading quickly, and Priests of the Sacred Heart are scrambling to send information packets to prospective residents, such as alumni of the Sacred Heart School of Theology and parishioners from St. Martin of Tours Parish.
“They were surprised to hear that other people were receiving information about the retirement facility before they did, since their parish is served by the Priests of the Sacred Heart and they should have their first choice of apartments,” said Deacon Nagel. “I had to chuckle when I heard it.”
Despite the current financial downturn, the high interest and overall need for retirement communities such as Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake give Sacred Heart staff confidence that the building is timely and appropriate.
“While it certainly would be preferable to undertake such a project in a stronger economic climate, the needs that the project addresses are still with us,” said Gorski. “We need more space for our senior priests and brothers, the Hales Corners-Franklin community at large would benefit from a Catholic-based retirement community, and there is a need for more space for our priests and brothers in active ministry.”
Gorski admitted that even in a thriving economy, a community such as this one would be costly, but with the assistance of generous benefactors, the dream is becoming a reality.
“Because it is the benefactors we depend upon, we will always be careful in how their generous donations are used,” she said. “Careful stewardship is even more important in a challenging economy, but it is always something of which we are mindful.”