New plans for century-old home for priests

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – A former home for priests in the Green Bay area may be getting a new lease on life.

Stained glass window

St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church on S. Irwin Ave. has been a staple in the community for almost 120 years, but the building attached to it has been mostly vacant for a while now.

The church was built in 1901 on the corner of Irwin and Cass Street, a block off East Mason St., and attached to it is a friary where dozens of priests and brothers used to live.

But over the past several years, the deacon says, it hasn't been used to its full potential, so they're looking at turning it into apartments.

"It's very historical, and it would be a shame to see it deteriorate or have to be taken down," Deacon Paul Umentum said.

Over the years, Umentum says, the church has stood the test of time.

"I know of one woman who is 92 and she was baptized here."

But for the friary attached, it's another story.

"Ten years ago they went from ten brothers and priests, then they went down from 10 to two or three, so since that time it's been under-utilized, I would say."

In an effort to save it, Deacon Umentum, along with other members of the church, contacted Fond du Lac developer Commonwealth Development Corporation.

"They are talking about putting apartments in the friary and having some common areas," Umentum said.

Umentum says the developers would turn 40 smaller rooms into 20 more modern apartments.

"They would put in things like air-conditioning."

In the back they would maintain some of the green space, especially the garden where parishioners grow food for local pantries, but beyond that they would build about 20 town homes.

"They would be for anybody. They would be open to the public and Commonwealth would own them, so the parish wouldn't have anything to do with renting them or managing them," Umentum said.

Although the diocese would give up ownership of the friary, Deacon Umentum says it would be a win-win for everyone involved.

"It's like a fixture here, and it would be a shame to not be used."

Umentum says the church is still in the beginning stages of looking at redeveloping the property and nothing has been set in stone. But if everything goes according to plan, we could start to see the effort bear fruit in about two years.

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