ST. FRANCIS – Casey Stengel was wont to tell sportswriters covering the New York Yankees, “You can look it up” if they questioned the factual validity of something he said.
If anyone didn’t know that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee does not own the Cousins Center, he or she could look it up. The Cousins Center, which housed De Sales Preparatory Seminary, was incorporated as De Sales Preparatory Seminary Inc. on Oct. 16, 1961 – a little more than five weeks before ground was broken for construction of the facility, according to the booklet published for the building’s dedication, Aug. 28, 1963.
The high school part of that seminary closed in 1979, and the college two years later.
Confusion over who owns the Cousins Center may be the result of “imprecise communications,” according to Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
“They (the archdiocese and De Sales Preparatory Seminary Inc.) are two separate, distinct corporations,” he said.
There are other entities that serve the archdiocese, i.e., Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, Catholic Charities, and the Milwaukee Catholic Press Apostolate, but which are separately incorporated, each with its own board of directors.
The archdiocese’s lease with De Sales Preparatory Seminary Inc. requires it to pay for upkeep, maintenance, improvements and operational expenses, according to Topczewski. He said annual upkeep is approximately $650,000, not counting maintenance staff and capital repairs.
“This is a real lease that involves real money,” Topczewski said, adding that it has been “clearly noted” in the archdiocese’s financial reports since 2004.
Discussion about Cousins Center ownership grew out of documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court where the archdiocese is seeking Chapter 11 reorganization. In those documents it is noted that the archdiocese rents the center, which has been on the market for five years.
“Chapter 11 is a very precise legal process,” Topczewski said, explaining the importance of differentiating the relationship of the archdiocese and De Sales Preparatory Seminary Inc. regarding the Cousins Center. “The process makes the determination as to what is owned, not the archdiocese.”
In 2006, when the archdiocese settled claims in California brought by victims of Milwaukee priests, the archdiocese’s share of the settlement was $8.25 million – the amount not covered by insurance. The archdiocese secured a loan of $4.65 million from Park Bank in order to help pay the settlement. The board of De Sales Preparatory Seminary Inc. guaranteed the loan by using the Cousins Center as collateral.
“The building has already been used to pay sexual abuse victims in California,” Topczewski said.
Meanwhile, 10 archdiocesan offices and programs that have been located at St. Joseph Convent on Milwaukee’s Layton Blvd. since 2006, when De Sales Preparatory Seminary Inc. had expected to sell the Cousins Center, are beginning to move to the Cousins Center.
It began last week when the office of the archbishop, his secretary and chief of staff moved from the third floor of the Cousins Center’s C wing to first floor offices located in the building’s B wing.
“This is the most economic way to operate the central offices right now,” Topczewski said.
According to John Marek, chief financial officer of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the move, which affects 24 employees who had been working out of the St. Joseph Center, as well as more than a dozen employees who are moving to different offices within the Cousins Center, will result in better stewardship of resources.
“We’re estimating that this could save the archdiocese $70,000 annually,” Marek said, noting that several expenses, e.g., utilities, couldn’t be determined until the offices were relocated and operating in the building.