MILWAUKEE — The Messmer Catholic School system is enjoying another year of record enrollment and is about to get a new look. The school recently purchased St. Mary of Czestochowa Church, and the adjoining rectory and garage buildings adjacent to Messmer Preparatory Catholic School at 3027 N. Fratney St.
Messmer Catholic Schools serve more than 1,500 students in grades K-12 at three campuses: Messmer High School, Messmer Preparatory Catholic School and St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic School.
While many public schools have struggled to maintain enrollment quotas, Messmer High School’s enrollment is at capacity with more than 600 students, with a significant waiting list. More than 85 percent of Messmer’s high school graduates go on to college, and each graduating class earns millions of dollars in scholarships.
Additionally, the K4-8 programs serve more than 800 students, and according to Jennifer Flierl, Messmer’s marketing and communications manager, the trajectory of increasing demand for Catholic education shows no signs of waning.
“In 2000, Messmer High School added Messmer Preparatory Catholic School, serving grades K4-8, to become Messmer Catholic Schools,” she explained. “In 2007, at the request of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Messmer also took over management of St. Rose and St. Leo, then known as the Catholic Urban Academies. Today, the schools are unified as St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic School in the St. Rose building in the Merrill Park neighborhood.”
Messmer High School was the first Catholic high school in the archdiocese, founded in 1926. The school’s current growth surprises those who struggled with the closure of the high school in 1984 due to declining enrollment. In desperation, a group of parents, friends and alumni reopened the school as an independent Catholic High School with an initial enrollment of 115 students.
“Messmer’s growth over the last decade, though a tremendous blessing, has left us with space constraints on all three campuses. This purchase will allow Messmer to address some of these concerns,” said Flierl. “As Messmer Prep is adjacent to the St. Mary of Czestochowa Church, rectory and garage buildings, it only made sense to consider this as a possible area for expansion.”
With the purchase, the school plans to expand the kindergarten offerings at Messmer Prep to establish a framework of high expectations offered in a nurturing and faith-filled environment, beginning with the youngest students.
“The ability to provide a high quality education to students from a very young age through high school graduation leaves no room for excuses,” explained Flierl. “When children come to us at 4 and stay with us through high school, they will experience a complete Messmer education. Students will be prepared to excel in college, to succeed in the workforce, and to become productive citizens.”
In addition, the purchase will allow for a larger playground area to meet the needs of the growing number of grade school students, and more room to accommodate additional office space for the school staff members.
While renovation details of the 29,476 square-foot property are yet not available, there are no plans to alter the St. Mary of Czestochowa church building. Founded as a parish in 1907, the current church building was constructed and dedicated to Mary in 1945. In 2003, St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish and St. Casimir Parish united to form Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish.
Negotiations were initiated several months ago as a means to right-size Our Lady of Divine Providence’s holdings and provide an opportunity for Messmer’s growth. According to Flierl, the process was collaborative and a blessing to all involved.
“In a partnership with Our Lady of Divine Providence, Mass will continue to be celebrated for parishioners. Parish priests Frs. Tim Kitzke, Brian Mason and Michael Michalski have offered to assist with Messmer’s Masses and prayer services. Mass will continue to be celebrated at St. Mary of Czestochowa on Monday and Tuesday mornings and Saturday afternoons,” she said.
The school is in discussion with architects regarding options for expansion; information will be released to the public in upcoming months.
According to Messmer president, Capuchin Br. Bob Smith, the purchase of the parish buildings of St. Mary of Czestochowa will provide needed space to support student programs.
“In addition, ownership of the church building, a stunning structure, will provide our students greater access to worship opportunities to extend their faith experience,” he said.
By acquiring property near the site of Messmer Preparatory Catholic School, Messmer will be able to expand more fully into the Riverwest neighborhood, said Flierl.
“When we added Messmer Prep in 2000, we did so consciously to tap into this vibrantly diverse community,” she said. “Providing a diverse student body with an education rooted in our Catholic faith is at the heart of what we do.”
Flierl is proud of Messmer’s academic success immersed with the richness of the Catholic faith, including a partnership with the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order, and benefit from the Capuchins’ assistance in sacramental ministry and other instructional areas.
“Many urban schools are struggling with declining populations, yet strong schools will continue to grow as parents recognize the value of providing their children with the best educational options,” she said. “Messmer participates in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to allow families that may not have the financial resources to provide their children with a private, Catholic education, this special and life-changing opportunity.”