The interior of the new chapel at the Catholic Ecology Center as it was being framed. (Submitted photo)

The winter of 2023-24, Wisconsin’s warmest on record, may not have been a banner season for snowmobilers. But as far as construction goes, it was pretty ideal.

Just take the Catholic Ecology Center’s new Wayne and Donna Neu Building. Ground broke on the 3,500-square-foot expansion to the CEC’s existing visitor center in Neosho on Oct. 9, and progress on the project has been so seamless that preparations are underway for the building’s completion this spring.

“Everything has been smooth sailing,” said Joe Meyer, Founder and Executive Director of the CEC. “It’s really exciting to see those spaces two-dimensionally that we’ve been planning for so long. To be able to see it take shape and take form is really fun.”

The coming weeks will see final touches being put on the building’s interior drywall, painting and finishing work. Much of the building’s renewable infrastructure has already been completed, including the geothermal heating and cooling systems and its gray water system, which will recycle water from bathroom sinks and laundry machines for use in the CEC’s native pollinator garden.

The solar panels that will power 80 percent of the building’s electricity are currently being installed, and Meyer said planting for the building’s green roof will take place later this month. The green roof is a rainwater-capturing system that will intercept 70 percent of the rainwater falling onto the 1,700-square-foot roof.

The installation of stained-glass windows in the building’s chapel is slated for April, while restoration work on 18th-century oil paintings depicting the Annunciation has already been completed by Conrad Schmitt Studios. The paintings, reclaimed from a nearby parish, are being professionally framed now.

The observation deck has been completed on the rear side of the existing building, offering expansive views of the 60-acre property, as well as more gathering space for the adjacent St. Francis Hall.

Educational displays informing visitors of the building’s sustainable elements and repurposed liturgical furnishings are also being completed. “You can’t take the teacher out of me,” laughed Meyer, who in addition to his work at the CEC is a science teacher at Marquette University High School. “The building is not only going to speak to those (sustainability elements) passively, but you’ll also be able to learn how to do this at home. And the faith element, it’ll really speak to not only bringing these items back to a new life but to how the statuary and art and stained glass tells the history of our faith and the truths of our faith, and how they draw people into deeper communion with God.”

Open houses featuring tours of the new building will be offered to the public the weekend of June 22 and 23.

But the building isn’t the only change on the horizon for the CEC this year: The organization is also seeking to hire two new staff members this summer to fill the roles of educator and program coordinator.

The educator role will be focused on running programs and retreats, developing curriculum and providing administrative support. Meyer described the job as a good fit for an individual with a diverse skill set, who is comfortable in education and ministry settings, and who has experience in ecology and/or a science background.

For the program coordinator role, the CEC is seeking someone who “is willing and able to organizationally bring us up to the next level,” said Meyer. The job involves managing the on-site team of educators; coordinating partnerships with schools, parishes and visiting groups; developing relationships with other organizations; and also providing a public face and point of contact for the CEC.

Both roles are full-time, salaried positions. Meyer said the CEC has been pleased with the number of applicants for the positions and adds that they are hopeful to see more.

Three years ago, the Catholic Ecology Center opened its doors with no paid staff; today, it has three full-time and one part-time staff member onboard. That growth has not only been a pleasant surprise, said Meyer, but it’s been a lesson in trust.

“God gives you the grace, and what you need as you need it,” he said. “The thought of this sort of thing, quite honestly, would’ve been overwhelming three years ago. But as you grow organically, those pieces fall into place, and you see the needs as they come. God’s always provided us so well with the people we need, when we need them, and with the finances we need when we need them.”

For full job descriptions and an in-depth look at the new building, visit