SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
For more than 170 years, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) has been a fixture in Elm Grove. The sisters made the sprawling property their home long before Elm Grove became a village. On Dec. 15, 1850, Mother Caroline Friess, their North American SSND foundress, arrived in the Milwaukee area to open a mother house. Mother Caroline, three sisters and a candidate began teaching the children of German immigrants at a parish school within two weeks of arrival.
By 1960, nearly 7,000 sisters from the North American provinces taught in schools, parishes and other areas of need in the U.S and Canada. However, by the New Millenium, the sisters began growing older and smaller in number. As a result, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province (SSNDCP), which includes Notre Dame of Elm Grove, decided two years ago to divest all their major properties. After a thorough and competitive proposed process, the 30-acre School Sisters of Notre Dame complex, including a church and convent, is being sold to Mandel Group Inc., a local development firm, for an undisclosed sum. The firm plans to convert much of the space to apartments.
According to Sr. Debra Sciano, SSND provincial leader, the decision was made following much reflection, research and planning for their future.
“We can no longer afford to own these properties and provide for the care of our aging sisters,” she said. “While change is often challenging, we are very happy with the terms of the agreement and our new partnership with Mandel Group. We are confident they will honor the SSND legacy, mission and core values as they develop the property in the months and years ahead.”
The Sisters chose Mandel Group to purchase their property as they have worked hard to retain the historical significance of other properties such as The Watermark Condominiums and the preserved Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, located across Watertown Plank Road from the SSND campus.
The cemetery will not be included in the sale as it has special meaning to the sisters for many reasons, but particularly as the North American foundress, Mother Caroline Friess, is buried there.
While Mandel has done some initial studies on redeveloping the site, they have not yet determined how many apartments could be built there. The project scope includes melding preserved buildings with new construction; and the two main buildings, Notre Dame Hall and Maria Hall, will be preserved.
Prior to moving forward with the redevelopment, Mandel Group will perform its due diligence with residents, prepare plans and secure zoning over the course of this year and into the next year, said Sr. Sciano. She added they plan to engage with residents of Elm Grove over the coming months to obtain input on their initial design concept prior to any formal submittal to the village of Elm Grove. The Sisters will also participate in meetings that occur in the village concerning the development as the legacy of the property is important to them.
“Once that is completed, we will move into the closing process, which could take several months,” she said. “As we announced in December, Mount Mary University will be the site of an intergenerational housing community for retired SSND and seniors, with an educational and supportive housing option for single mothers who are students at MMU. This project is a three-way venture between SSNDCP, MMU and the Milwaukee Catholic Home. Groundbreaking is expected in mid-2020, contingent on the City of Milwaukee review and approval, with expected completion by November 2021.”