Open Letter to Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, et alii, Regarding the Proposed Conversion of the Holy Redeemer School Building, and Related Matters

Letter To:

Courtesy Copies:

Regarding: the proposed conversion of "our" Holy Redeemer School Building and related matters

Date: 8 April A.D. 2013


I have been pondering writing this semi-public letter regarding the Holy Redeemer School matter since the "neighborhood" meeting held at Holy Redeemer on 6 March 2013. Normally, I would keep a communication like this at least somewhat private, but at the aforesaid meeting, a number of defects in the relationship between Msgr. Kevin Holmes and many of those who belong to the Catholic congregation of Holy Redeemer was put on public display, in front our neighbors and in front of representatives of the press. As a consequence, this letter will be shared with any and all interested parties.

This is not a letter I write with any enthusiasm, especially as I doubt that it will be warmly received by those to whom it is principally directed, but I perceive that my duty is to wrap my arms about this cross and proceed.

Before I go into the pastoral and other aspects of the matter immediately at hand, I will make note of some technical & legal issues which ought to be addressed in any event, regardless of any plans or proposals.

On 12 February 2010, about 1-1/2 years after the forced canonical merger of the parishes of St. Raphael, Holy Redeemer, and St. Patrick, Msgr. Kevin Holmes executed a quit-claim deed assigning the real property of Holy Redeemer on West Johnson Street in Madison to St. Raphael Congregation.

LATE NOTICE: On 17 April 2013, a document from 2009 was produced which indicated that all trustees did indeed authorize this transfer. As a consequence, the particular civil concerns raised in this section of the letter have been allayed; there may be other civil concerns. The other matters -- of greater concern -- remain.

I question the legal validity of this step, and therefore the strength of the claim of title of St. Raphael Congregation to Holy Redeemer's (or St. Patrick's -- if the same thing was done) property, because:

  1. This was done without a proper vote of the trustees. Neither of our two lay trustees were notified of any vote, nor of the filing of the deed.
  2. The only signature, aside from that that of the witness, Mr. Grant Emmel, appearing on the deed is Msgr. Kevin Holmes'. Neither the President's (Bishop Morlino) nor the Secretary's (Gail - Mrs. Jay - Jaeger) appears on the deed.

Please note that the civil entity that represents Holy Redeemer Congregation is governed by chapter 187 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Chapter 187.19(5) of the Wisconsin Statues provides: " ... The real estate of the corporation shall not be sold, mortgaged, encumbered or disposed of in any manner without the vote and consent of all the directors."

Chapter 187.19(3) of the Wisconsin Statues provides: " ... The 2 laypersons shall be and remain members of the corporation for a term of 2 years and until their successors, who in all cases shall be laypersons, are chosen or selected as provided by the by-laws. ..."

Chapter 187.19(1) of the Wisconsin Statues provides: " ... The bishop and vicar-general of each diocese, the pastor of the congregation to be incorporated, together with two laypersons, practical communicants of such congregation (the latter to be chosen from and by the congregation), shall be trustees."

As neither Gail Jaeger nor Ken Vandenwymelenberg approved of, voted on, or were even informed of this transfer of Holy Redeemer's real property, it seems fairly clear that the property transfer is not valid.

I am attempting to a obtain a formal opinion on this and related matters from a neutral expert. (As a "historical aside," I will note that I tried to find our corporate by-laws, or determine if they ever existed, when I was doing research for our sesquicentennial. As far as I can tell, there are no corporate by-laws for Holy Redeemer Congregation.)

It seems to me that the fact of our forced canonical merger is largely irrelevant to these matters, the question of asset transfer and liability being primarily a question of civil structures and processes. A forced or voluntary canonical merger does not and should not necessarily imply a civil merger, forced or voluntary.

Aside from the legal and technical questions, there are the moral and pastoral questions: are we laymen human beings for whom Christ died, and therefore deserving of respect, or are we stooges, to be ignored when convenient? I will likely go into that question later in this document, but do keep in mind, as you read this, that our elected trustees were ignored as though they, and, therefore we who elected them, are of no consequence.

In any event, I recommend and insist that the following steps be taken BEFORE any further steps are taken -- if any, ever -- toward the subdivision of Holy Redeemer's campus and the the conversion of "our" school building:

  1. The property transfer of 12 February 2010 be voided -- by court decree if need be.
  2. Elections for lay trustees of Holy Redeemer be held in short order. We are overdue. While Ken Vandenwymelenberg *may* be held to have abandoned his seat (though, as he has not missed any meetings of trustees, this may not be true), Gail Jaeger certainly has not abandoned hers, and will continue to hold her seat until she is re-elected or her replacement is elected. This election should be organized and run, and the candidates come from, the "practical communicants" of Holy Redeemer. "Practical communicants" I would take to mean those for whom Holy Redeemer is their current and intended primary place of Sunday Worship. This is made a bit more complicated by the fact that members of St. Raphael's congregation are dependent on, and therefore regularly present in, other churches (including Holy Redeemer) currently.
  3. If the clergy continue to desire to have a consolidation of assets into a single civil entity, then there should be a proper meeting of the trustees -- and it would be nice if the Bishop and Vicar-General are present in person and not by proxy for this -- and a full discussion of the merits and demerits of such an arrangement should be had before a proper vote.

By this note, I announce my candidacy for the trustee seat that may or may not have been vacated by Ken Vandenwymelenberg. (As the Congregation officially has no money, I expect the "treasurer" part of the position to be not very challenging.)

Again, these matters are, per se, "technical," and simply need to be addressed and corrected, regardless of the merits or lack thereof, of the forced merger, the proposed subdivision, or the school proposal.

The rest of the matters are much less straight-forward, and it is painful to speak of them.

As I noted in the opening paragraph of this letter, various defects in the relationship between Msgr. Kevin Holmes and many of the active members of Holy Redeemer Congregation were put on public display at the meeting of 6 March 2013.

It was painful to watch "outsiders" be genuinely surprised that Msgr. Kevin Holmes has not before had an honest in-person conversation with his own parishioners about this project before. It was painful to watch them attack Msgr. Kevin Holmes for not listening to his own people, knowing that these attacks were fully justified. I tried to at least interpret and explain Msgr. Kevin's reasoning and ideology, but that was all I could do, I could not defend it.

Then, to add an extra layer of bizarreness to the situation, Msgr. Kevin Holmes tried to prevent Gail Geib from speaking about the proposal that members of Holy Redeemer's community had made two years previously, only to see it dismissed out of hand for ideological reasons. She was allowed to speak only because the meeting chairman, Eugene Devitt, insisted.

People were also quite offended by Mark Landgraf's attitude toward the objecting parishioners and skeptical visitors who were present. They interpreted his manner as being rude, as someone who was offended that mere parishioners dare to object to his project.

It is embarrassing that it takes a civil process to finally get a Roman Catholic pastor to sit down with his own people to discuss a project that will have (and is already having) a major effect on the life of our community. It is embarrassing that assembled "outsiders" have to tell a Roman Catholic pastor how to be pastoral. It is embarrassing that it takes extra-ecclesiastical actors to demand that a Roman Catholic pastor treat his subjects with respect.

Gentlemen, something is very wrong here. Something has been wrong for a while.

Permit me to start with this plea, and then go into detail later in this document:

Bishop Morlino, please SHELVE this school project, NOW, well before the Planning Commission meeting. Please direct that the roof be replaced (we do have the money), that I, as Building and Maintenance Supervisor (or at least as an extremely active physical-plant volunteer of many years' standing), and others as needed, again be issued keys to the school building, and that Mark Landgraf and company repair the damage they have done to the interior and exterior of the Holy Redeemer School Building and leave, and that the members of the community of Holy Redeemer be allowed to work on repairing the inside of the school building without further interference and be allowed to resume using it, and that our original proposal for restoration be given serious consideration. (That is, the proposers, other interested parties, and governing clergy actually sit down in a group and discuss its merits and demerits in detail, and sympathetically.)

Bishop Morlino, please direct that the working assumption that Msgr. Kevin Holmes is making -- that our school building is superfluous as it will be replaced by some other auxiliary building at some point in the future on the site of the old Cathedral -- be abandoned. It seems to me that whatever congregation is here in the future, whether as part of the "Cathedral Parish," or as a re-erected free-standing parish, or as an oratory run by some other ecclesiastical entity, would have need of, or could probably make good use of, our school building. It is not good stewardship to allow a rather solid building to rot because another building might be built in the future elsewhere. It makes no sense to deny, permanently, for all practical purposes, our community the use of "our" building on the basis of a working assumption that is at best questionable, and which certainly has not been properly discussed with -- much less vetted by -- our community.

It does not make any sense to cling to such an ideology-driven assumption at this time, especially at the cost of alienating and showing contempt for the members of our community.

Permit me to review the recent history of the school and this project:

The Diocese had been renting the school building (floors 1 and 2) as the Diocesan Religious Education Center from 1971 until the conversion of Holy Name Seminary into the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in the 1990's. The auditorium (3rd floor) had not been used in decades, and was a de-facto storage area. For some time after the diocese moved out, the building was largely unused, aside from the one intact room on the first floor. Strangely, the Diocese kept exerting an inordinate amount of control over our school building, despite the fact that they were no longer using it or paying rent. Attempts to rent parts of the building out to, for example, Pregnancy Helpline, were often met with the instruction to "wait."

Fr. Kevin Holmes, during his first pastorate, consented to allow Wisconsin Gymnastics, specifically Mr. Tom Taagen, to use the auditorium as a gymnasium when Wisconsin Gymnastics was kicked out of University facilities as a consequence of program changes. Mr. Taagen emptied the auditorium of the materials stored there, repaired the roof (in which there had been a number of long-standing leaks, apparently) and other parts of the building (at his own expense), and installed gymnastics equipment.

Not long after this, Fr. Kevin Holmes was re-assigned to Dane (Spring, 1989), as a consequence of the murder of Fr. Alfred Kunz. After this, Holy Redeemer entered what I call the "period of rapidly rotating pastors." I think we had 5 pastors or administrators in 4 years. Needless to say, we had to look to each other for comfort, and to get things done.

During the short pastorate of Fr. James Uppena, we (finally!) got approval from the Diocese to rent out part of the first floor of the school to Pregnancy Helpline. The actual leasing and occupation of the space by Pregnancy Helpline occurred during the brief 2nd pastorate of Fr. Bruce Hennington; I wrote the lease. I believe it was during this time that Wisconsin Gymnastic's arrangements in the auditorium were terminated by vote of the parish council, Fr. Uppena abiding by the council's vote. Afterwards, during the pastorate of Fr. Larry Bakke, other space in the school was leased to Children's Theater of Madison (costume storage) and to International Youth With A Mission. During the pastorate of Msgr. Paul Swain,to meet growing demands of our parish catechetical programs, which were now being held in the school, the leases for Children's Theater of Madison and IYAM were eventually terminated, and that space used for the expanding program.

I think it was also during (or not long after) the pastorate of Fr. Larry Bakke that I checked on the legality of the auditorium, had an architect verify the capacity, and had a fire inspector determine that it was OK for occupancy. Prior to that it was mostly unused, aside from some unofficial use by YWAM (who were tenants on the 2nd floor at the time). After this time, our parishioners, particularly our Spanish speakers, began to once again use the space for parish activities with some regularity.

We began to look into fully rehabilitating the auditorium so that it could be used for a number of events and activities.

(Here, I will note that whenever I brought visitors into the school auditorium, their jaws would drop, and almost without exception they would ask: how can I help restore this? It seems to me -- and many others -- the 19th century auditorium is the most likely draw for getting non-ecclesial groups to chip in to help fund a building restoration -- WITHOUT a debt.)

The school auditorium was refurbished by parish volunteers a number of years ago, I think in late 2006. Those efforts continued. My impression is that Milton Pozo (the elder), who was the driving force behind most of this, was told to suspend work at some point. I think this was at the time of the diocesan freeze on major projects.

In September, 2010, members of the community of Holy Redeemer started to put together a proposal to renovate the school building.

We have had a chronic problem with the school roof leaking. On a number of occasions over the years I have spotted leaks and called Ganser Roofing in to provide estimates and patch holes. Some time after the forced merger, Msgr. Kevin Holmes became less coöperative in these and other matters. In October, 2010, I found a puddle on the 3rd floor of the school and new leak in the roof. I called in Ganser and got an estimate, which I forwarded on 10/1/2010 to Msgr. Kevin Holmes with a request that I be allowed to proceed with the repair. When I did not hear from him, I asked him about this when I crossed paths with him in the Sacristy, and he made the curious reply that he "would work with Chris" [Chris Konkol, janitor and light maintenance man] to get Ganser on the job. Puzzled, I asked what role Chris was to play given that he already had an estimate in hand. He was not aware of this; he had only skimmed my e-mail. I asked him to let me proceed, as I thought we should get this done before there was substantial precipitation, and before he left for a planned trip to Belgium. However my pleas were for nought. He left the matters in the hands of Tom Mecum over at St. Patricks (rather than simply have me take care of it) before he left for Belgium. The delays at a critical time and the subsequent events left us with the roof unpatched until the following May.

In May, 2011, the parishioner proposal to renovate the school building was completed and presented. It was never given serious consideration, despite the fact that it involved no use of parish funds.

At some point, a new Catholic Mutual representative, Kris Twinning came into office. She was brought on a tour of the buildings by the Janitor. She allegedly ordered the auditorium locked and not be used as she found it too hazardous. The previous representative did not see the same degrees of hazard, not did the various city inspectors I (or the Janitor) had brought around many times earlier. Of course, the Janitor did not challenge her, nor were those who actually care for or use the space consulted. It is, of course, absurd. The auditorium has no such uncontrollable hazards. In more normal circumstances, I would have intervened and gotten the matter fixed, as I had with other things in the past.

In May of 2012, in response to reports I received of flooding on the second floor, I found another major leak in the roof. I reported this to Msgr. Kevin Holmes on 5/8/2012 and offered to see to the matter. I received no reply, and apparently nothing else was done, aside from an effort I made to position tubs to catch some of the water. We did not have further damage for some months only because we were in a severe drought at the time.

The following October (2012), as I was preparing to leave for a flight to Washington, DC, I received a telephone call from Milton Pozo (the elder) who was angrily reporting to me that there had been yet more flooding on the second floor (we had the first substantial rainfall for a long time that day). The leak had not been dealt with at all. I managed to put him in contact with Tom Mecum at St. Patricks. Ganser was (finally) called in. At this point, "patching" the roof is not really possible in those areas, as the roof had been allowed to rot too much. They put plastic on the school roof. As the plastic does not hold snow, fences were put up around the school to prevent people from being injured by mini-avalanches coming from the roof. This has also closed off several parking spaces, and has closed off the Johnson Street entrance.

This could have been averted had I been allowed to handle things in a timely fashion in years past. However, ideology got in the way.

Not long after this, an item appeared in the parish bulletin explaining how the this emergency in the school roof was motivating Msgr. Kevin to "fast-track" a plan to convert the Holy Redeemer school into student housing.

It seems to me, and to others in the know, that the "emergency" was contrived, or, at least, certainly avoidable. In fact, it has been obvious for quite a few years that the school roof was getting to the point where it would no longer be patchable. I had gotten an estimate for roof replacement from Ganser perhaps as early as 2007 to allow for planning for this. In June of 2009, I pointed out to Msgr. Kevin Holmes via e-mail, after I had spotted another leak and was making arrangements for a patch, that we would have to have the roof re-done at some point.

Had we been allowed to proceed with fund-raising, the school roof would quite possibly been replaced before the "emergency" arose, quite possibly without cost to the parish.

There are other aspects of the timing of these various events which warrant attention, and are a source of concern in themselves. For the moment, I would like to dwell on the (Holmes-Landgraf) proposal itself.

The proposal was marketed as a way to provide a community living arrangement for Catholic students who are active at St. Paul's. This, itself, seemed timely, as St. Paul's had lost the battle to have a residential college tower as part of the design for the new Catholic center. It was initially thought that the auditorium would be preserved.

As time has passed, it has become apparent that:

  1. This project, though pitched to us as being for Catholic students active at St. Paul's, would, in fact, be housing that is subject to federal fair housing laws. (When I specifically asked Mark Landgraf about having it chartered from the beginning as a residential college for those enrolled in a program run by St. Paul's -- thus keeping a Catholic character and keeping a tax-exempt usage in line with that of a Catholic Church, he indicated it would not work financially.) So, if this project goes forward, we would wind up with a building full of "students of means" who do NOT necessarily have any connection to the Catholic church, who are NOT in any kind of program of formation. "We" would have no control over whoever was living there or what sorts of things they were doing.
    No, thank you.
  2. To get historic preservation tax credits, the developers propose to give a taxable "partner" an ownership interest in the LLC that would own the school building. I think I hear Mark Landgraf indicate that this would be a 99% interest. In any case, giving a non-ecclesiastical entity an ownership interesting in a structure that parishioners sacrificed to build to serve ecclesiastical purposes is a bad idea. No, thank you. (I understand this approach has been abandoned recently, though I do not know why, though I have my suspicsions.)
  3. To make the project work, they would have to destroy the auditorium -- the only intact 19th century auditorium left in the city I understand --, or at least render it unusable.
    No, thank you.
  4. The project involves contracting a substantial debt that would be refinanced some years down the road under terms that ARE NOT KNOWN. This is madness!
    No, thank you.
  5. The project completely removes "our" school building from use by our community.
    No, thank you.

Gentlemen, this project has been characterized by a contempt for us Christifideles. This well displayed contempt has taken several forms, and, has, in turn, caused people even like me -- of orthodox outlook and appreciative of the role of clergy -- to conclude that those in authority cannot be trusted to treat us with respect, to tell the full truth at all times, nor to listen.

We must do better than this. This is not the sort of life to which God has called us, especially as Church.

The attitude put forward by Mark Landgraf, in connection with this proposal and in connection with the prior "Estrella" proposal seems to be that since the Bishop is OK with it, the rest of us should shut up, and since he is the Bishop's representative only what he says matters, and he should not have to put up with objecting parishioners.


We, in the church, do live in in the midst of a certain dialectic tension. On the one hand, we are a military organization; on the other, we are a collaborative organization. On top of this, we are all family in some way. Our clergy are expected to be priests, prophets, kings, and servants, all at the same time. It is a hard role to fill.

We laymen are expected to obedient and open to good teaching, and yet act on an obligation to speak our minds, and we have a practical responsibility to be on guard against bad teaching. Lately, it has become apparent that for the good of our dignity and the good of the Church, we must be assertive about protecting our own dignity. (How much better shape would we be in if parents in the 50s and 60s had taken more definitive action to protect their older male children from predatory clergy?) It sometimes is hard to know how God wants us to proceed, to know when we should simply trust, when we should turn the other cheek, and when we should stand firm and demand respect.

Gentlemen, again, we must do better. The passive-aggressive behavior, rash decision making, and the resulting subtle abuse must stop, and the effects of these behaviors on the part of clergy reversed.

More immediately, I beg you to reconsider your actions this far regarding this school project. Please, shelve this project. Please, stop refusing to hear out people who object, or who want to talk to the Bishop or Vicar General about a certain rector's behavior (there have been several it seems). Please, stop acting like the community at Holy Redeemer does not exist or is of no importance. Please, drop the "one campus" ideology. Please, stop acting as though Canonical considerations are the only considerations, and that members of the faithful, such as myself, who attempt to intervene, can be properly ignored. Please, in the name of God!

I will close with St. Peter's words (1Peter5): "1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. 2 Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, 3 not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"

In Him,

Richard Bonomo