Boysville property allows Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central to dream

Monroe — St. Mary Catholic Central High School in Monroe has some elbow room. Now it needs to figure out what do with it.

On Feb. 10, an anonymous donor donated 60 acres of land to the north of Monroe’s city limits, the former Holy Cross Children’s Services Boysville Moreau Center.

The gift was officially to the St. Mary Catholic Central Endowment Fund, a separate nonprofit entity dedicated to supporting Catholic education throughout the Monroe Vicariate.

St. Mary Catholic Central has been familiar with the property; in the 1970s and ‘80s, the Verona Fathers hosted religious retreats for students at the then all-boys Monroe Catholic Central.

The chapel is pictured on the Boysville Moreau Center grounds in Monroe. In February, the school’s endowment fund received an anonymous gift of 60 acres of land formerly belonging to the Boysville Moreau Center. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

The Verona Fathers, who bought the property in 1950 to train Comboni Missionaries, sold the property in the mid-1980s to the Brothers of Holy Cross, the order responsible for operating Monroe Catholic Central from its founding to its 1986 merger with St. Mary Academy.

In 1984, the Verona Fathers allowed Monroe Catholic Central to host its soccer matches on an undeveloped section of the property. Since then, the Boysville property has been home to St. Mary Catholic Central’s soccer and lacrosse programs.

“Because of those ties, the school’s had a presence on the property since 1984,” said Sean Jorgenson, president of St. Mary Catholic Central High School. “We now have a complex for soccer and lacrosse that parents volunteered to develop. Our older alums from the 1970s and ‘80s will tell you about the retreats and vocations education they went to when the Comboni Missionaries were there. So we’ve always had a connection to the property.”

Holy Cross Children’s Services continued on the corner of Nadeau Road and Comboni Way until 2008, when state budget cuts forced the Boysville program to close down. In 2010, the Michigan Catholic Conference purchased the property.

“Around September 2016, we had an alumni family — extraordinary supporters of the school — make an extraordinary gift to the school endowment fund after one of the family members, Denny Miller, passed away.

“Shortly after, Denny had a friend who wanted to make a gift of property to the endowment,” Jorgenson explained. “This person didn’t have a strong connection to the school, he wasn’t an alum, but very active in southeast Michigan and was friends with the Millers. He heard what Denny did, saw the impact of the gift, and decided to purchase the property and give it to the endowment fund.”

The unexpected gift has opened up a lot of opportunities for landlocked St. Mary Catholic Central, who rent off-site facilities for its football, tennis, baseball, softball and track and field teams.

“We play football in a stadium owned by the Monroe Public School system, but it has been for sale for three years. If they ever sell it, we’re gypsies,” Jorgensen said. “We’ve never owned a track; our track teams just run down the sidewalks in the city of Monroe and practice field events in the front lawn.”

Besides an athletic complex, Jorgenson said the endowment fund would also like to do something with the property that would be a benefit for the whole vicariate, including possible use for area CYO programs or potential new school buildings. But Jorgenson cautions any type of development is years off.

“It’s the board of directors of the endowment fund that are spearheading this process,” Jorgensen said. “They’re doing the groundwork of studying the existing building that’s there, doing a boundary survey, a wetland survey, beginning a conversation with members of the community.”

Jorgenson expects the survey of the property to be finished by the year’s end, which would allow the endowment fund to develop a master plan over the next year, analyzing all of the Monroe Catholic Schools’ needs and resources for developing the property.

“The endowment fund is going to look at what makes the most sense for the people of the Monroe Catholic community,” Jorgensen said. “Whatever plans come of it, we’re not rich; we don’t have a pile of money we’re waiting to spend. So if the plan is an athletic complex, that will lead to a broader conversation about fundraising. Any construction would be years down the road, and (the endowment fund) is not going to do anything without local commitment and sign off.”

Seventy percent of the 60-acre property is wooded, and Jorgenson said people in the community would like to see most of the woods stay there. He notes when Detroit Catholic Central moved to Novi, it was a 30-acre property, so the 60 acres is more than enough to accommodate Monroe Catholic School’s dreams, whatever they might be.

“We need to take a long-term look at our needs; we’re a long way from building a new high school,” Jorgenson said. “We’re taking a broader look at the Monroe Vicariate as a whole. Before we invest a bunch of money, let’s have a conversation about all our buildings together and see what makes the most sense.

“This becomes a challenging conversation, with a bunch of independent entities that need to get on the same page,” Jorgenson noted. “But what a wonderful opportunity, but a big challenge.”