DE PERE — A local couple’s financial gift will transform and secure the future of Catholic education on De Pere’s east side. Jim and Miriam Mulva, members of St. Mary Parish in Ledgeview, announced May 14 a $27 million gift to build a new Notre Dame School, as well as a parish hall at St. Francis Xavier Church.
“In our longstanding dedication to Catholic education and the De Pere community we so dearly love, we are pleased to make this gift to the St. Francis Xavier and St. Mary parishes, which own the buildings that house Notre Dame School,” Miriam Mulva said in a press release announcing the donation.
Notre Dame School currently exists on two separate campuses, two blocks apart. The middle school campus, at 221 S. Wisconsin St., sits next to St. Francis Xavier Church. The elementary school campus resides on a one-block property at 100 S. Huron.
The new school will merge the two campuses into a three-story 87,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building, serving students from early childhood through eighth grade. It will be located on the elementary school property and built on space where the school parking lot and playground currently sit.
As part of the agreement to build a new school, St. Francis Xavier Parish, with the approval of the Diocese of Green Bay, is transferring property on which the middle school is located — as well as land on which the Father Tony Dolski Parish Center, St. Francis Xavier House and parking garages are located – to the De Pere Cultural Foundation.
The transferred property will be used as parking and landscaped areas for the Mulva Cultural Center, a $50 million art center overlooking the Fox River in De Pere’s downtown district. The Mulvas announced construction of the cultural center on May 1. The De Pere Cultural Foundation was established to manage the development and operations of the Mulva Cultural Center.
In exchange for the church property, a new parish hall will be built to replace the Father Dolski center and the parish will have use of the cultural center parking area for church services.
A new school building is a longtime dream for the school and parishes, St. Francis Xavier and St. Mary, which support the school, Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor of the two parishes, and Molly Mares, Notre Dame School principal, told The Compass in an interview May 16.
The history of the two school campuses is tied to the history of the two parishes, which date back centuries.
St. Francis Xavier Parish was a mission church established by Fr. Claude Allouez in 1669. The original St. Francis Xavier School was built in 1870, and the present middle school was built in 1924. St. Mary Parish, now located in Ledgeview, was an offshoot of St. Francis Xavier. The original church was built at the site of the elementary school in 1869, when Dutch, Belgian and German families separated from the Irish and English families at St. Francis.
St. Mary School was built in 1882 and demolished in 1952. A new school was built and then expanded in 1960. In 1971, the two schools consolidated and the name was changed to Notre Dame. “Building a new school rather than adding on to this already disjointed building is so wonderful,” said Mares.
“The school’s wings on the second floor don’t connect because they were added on later,” she said. “We also have a separate building for the middle school, so our middle schoolers currently walk over to the elementary school every single day for lunch. … The sharing of resources and staff collaboration, being housed in one space in a brand new state of the art facility — that is just a huge structural opportunity.”
Fr. Getchel said a facilities study took place about five or six years ago.
“The school took the initiative of doing it, but it involved the two parishes,” he said. “It was determined that we’ve got some aging structures.” The study suggested repurposing the middle school building for another use and building on to the elementary school. “For lack of funds, it fell through,” he said.
“A couple of years ago, in October 2016, we approached the Mulvas (about renovating the school) and they were very receptive of the idea, but nothing came of it for a couple of years,” added Fr. Getchel. “Last October, things got resurrected” when the Mulva Cultural Center plans began to take shape.
Fr. Getchel said both parishes, as well as their trustees and councils, learned about the plans within the last few weeks. Town hall meetings were held May 6 at St. Francis Xavier and May 7 at St. Mary. “There was just a general consensus that, ‘Wow, this is just going to be so great,’” said Fr. Getchel. “There were no objections.”
Obvious questions were asked, such as where parish groups will meet and where the St. Francis parish picnic will be held, he said.
Mares said logistical questions were also discussed by school staff members. “Those are things that people first think of, everyday traditions and routines, but overall the response has been absolutely positive — and the logistics will get worked out as we get there,” she said.
Mares said a new school with the latest technology offerings will be a boost for recruitment. The school’s enrollment is currently at 358 students, and the new school will have a capacity of 450 students. “In the past couple of days, we’ve had some families contact us already,” she said. “So we’ve had a slight uptick. We’ll see how that plays out. We are hoping to bring new families into Catholic education while also continuing to provide the strong academic foundation we do at Notre Dame.”
Mares said it is too early to know what features the school will offer in the technology area. “What that looks like is still to be determined, but, of course, with a new building comes a lot of new technology that’s integrated,” she said.
“Miron, the contractor, has brought up several times that with a new school it will (mean) new furnishings,” added Fr. Getchel. “We are not going to take things here and put them over there.” He said current school furnishings may be available to other schools in need of items.
Fr. Getchel said the Mulvas’ generous donation may encourage other benefactors to offer similar gifts.
“A number of priests have called me and said they are jealous,” said Fr. Getchel, jokingly. “But this may spur other people to think this way, which I think is good, too.”
“It will hopefully serve as a springboard for others to be inspired to make significant donations to continue to benefit Catholic education throughout the Green Bay area,” added Mares.
Partial demolition of the parish property is expected to begin this summer, according to a press release, and the new parish center’s completion is anticipated by the spring of 2020.
“Both schools will operate in their respective places until the end of the next school year, June 2020,” said Mares. “Then we should take possession of the new school that fall. They will take this school down in the summer of 2020.”
Two structures, one on each property, serve as businesses or residences. Creekside Christian Montessori School, which has leased building space at the elementary school site for more than a decade, is relocating to West De Pere. Xavier House, a discernment house for the diocesan Office of Vocations, has been home to the vocation director for years. In addition, seminarians who visit Green Bay for meetings or to attend ordinations, stay at Xavier House, located adjacent to St. Francis Xavier Church.
Fr. Getchel said that the Mulvas’ generosity not only extends to the new school building, but their cultural center will serve as an educational opportunity for Notre Dame School students.
“From what I know, there are going to be some permanent exhibits,” he said. “About four times a year they will bring in a new art exhibit, and so to have our students so close and to be able to go over there, it’s free admission.”
“That will be a huge benefit for our students,” added Mares. “We are blown away by the amount of generosity by the Mulvas.”