“Back to School” is taking on a whole new meaning as Mount Mary University is being reimagined as an intergenerational campus. 

Sister Ellen Lorenz, former President of Mount Mary University, is looking forward to returning to campus in 2021– this time as a resident. She will be joined by a number of other members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, single mothers who are also Mount Mary students as well as independent-living individuals and couples.

Sister Ellen and the others will be part of the foundation of the imagined intergenerational campus. Mount Mary seeks to embrace the concept that the coming together of different generations – and different backgrounds – can enrich lifelong living, as well as learning.

Sister Ellen said coming back to campus after serving as academic dean from 1976 to 1979 and as President from 1979 to 1987 will offer her new opportunities.

“When I think about it,” she said, “I was too busy to take advantage of many things such as the wonderful art classes, the speakers and other opportunities.”

Sister Ellen said she will delve into those and more while extending her tutoring activities and collaborating on social justice issues.

“I have a lot of time to think about the move and how it will be better for me and other sisters in terms of our physical and mental health,” she said, emphasizing the interaction with others living on campus, especially children and “looking at the world through their eyes.”

trinity woods updateA three-pronged partnership
The sea-change in campus interactions is the result of a cooperative $45 million venture between Mount Mary University, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Milwaukee Catholic Home.  Mount Mary President Christine Pharr said the idea began a few years ago.

“The sisters had been thinking about what would happen because their numbers were dwindling and their Elm Grove property was hard to keep-up financially,” Pharr said. “This was an opportunity to develop a new way of thinking about education, bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds. There is a synergy in having students, children and seniors all together.”

That synergy is welcomed by Sister Debra Sciano, provincial of the Sisters of Notre Dame.

“The sisters are retired but they continue to tutor, write and mentor,” she said. “Spirituality is a significant piece of our lives and we have a history of service with women and children. There is so much potential.”

Realizing the potential of an intergenerational community required the support of Milwaukee Catholic Home, which for years has provided management and health care services to the sisters in Elm Grove. In fact. Sister Debra also served on the Catholic Home board. Milwaukee Catholic Home CEO Dave Fulcher said he is enthused about bringing his organization’s health care and senior lifestyle expertise to the campus.

“What’s unique about this campus that people want to live, contribute and connect,” Fulcher said. “It will be a unique living experience.”

To make that happen, the three CEOs formed a 501(c)(3) with the community’s title: Trilogy Woods, reflecting the three entities and giving a nod to the wooded area lining the Mount Mary campus’s north boundary along Burleigh street.

To make way for the new construction that includes a multi-story residence, the historically serene campus has been churned up considerably. One of the results was the removal of more than 250 diseased Scotch Pine trees that were reaching the end of their life. A 10-acre forested area at the northeast corner of the campus remains untouched.

Renovating the Campus Landscape

trinity woods renovationsMount Mary President Pharr noted attention is being paid to repurposing remains of those trees, installing new plantings while introducing permeable pavers, bio swales and a fountain to manage water runoff while preserving the campus aesthetics. The work is supported by a $10,000 sustainability grant.

The residences this work has made possible includes those earmarked for 90 senior apartments for adults age 55 and over, 52 assisted living apartments for retirees of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and 24 student apartments for single women undergraduate students at Mount Mary and their children under the age of 12.

Costs and amenities
Market-based apartments for older adults posted in early October information on the site noted month-to-month rent for one-bedroom units with sizes of 799, 846, 962 and 1084 square feet ranges from $2,115 to $2,935. The two-bedroom units of 1,239, 1,282 or 1,586 and 1,752 square feet ranges from $3,160 to $4,645. The developers in late October were finalizing exact unit sizes and prices. The prices include all utilities and basic internet and cable services.

According to the website, high-end finishes include stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, window blinds, in-unit washer/dryer, individually controlled het and air conditioning, maple cabinetry and private decks or patios. Underground parking and additional storage are other features.

Student housing costs will be $1,200 a month for the student and up to two children. No information was available regarding housing costs to the retired sisters who move to campus.

The community space that serves all the residents will include a number of amenities, such as full-service dining, a library, a media center art studio, a salon and spa, an education center, a cinema, and access to learning opportunities by the university.

The development also features a sprawling wooded landscape with walking paths as one of a number of outdoor features. Residents can get actively involved with volunteer opportunities that will enhance the intergenerational experience.

Lori Kennedy, Trinity Woods housing advisor, set up a university-based rental office at the end of September. She and President Pharr said initial announcement of the development had generated a lot of interest.  Kennedy said a growing number of independent apartments have been reserved by adults from a variety of perspectives including those who are Mount Mary alums, sisters who want to live independently and those who have served the Sisters of Notre Dame in a in a non-religious capacity.

“We are excited about the number of people who have inquired,” Kennedy said.

Opening New Opportunities

Future resident Sister Ellen Lorenz echoes the enthusiasm and puts an exclamation mark about the possibilities surrounding an intergenerational community.

“When I first learned about Trinity Woods,” she said, “I was surprised because I never thought of Mount Mary as a place to live. Now, it seems perfect because for many of the sisters, it is a place that we are familiar with. Mount Mary is one of our ministries. I think many sisters will see this as a wonderful opportunity. There is so much to share.” 


Into The Woods

What’s behind the name of Trinity Woods? Mount Mary President Christine Pharr shared this description:

“Trinity” honors the Catholic/Christian faith and is a nod to the three entities which are sponsoring the community. Trinity also has a deeper meaning of the relationship and community.

“Woods” highlights the mature woods, one of the most notable physical aspects of the site. The woods signify growth, wisdom, expansion and reaching aspirations.

What is Intergenerational Learning?

A summary of online descriptions:

In the European model, Intergenerational Learning describes the way people of all ages can learn together and from each other.  It is an important part of lifelong learning where the generations work together to gain skills, values and knowledge.

In the Montessori Model, Intergenerational Learning Communities incorporates education for children and adults along with innovative approaches toward aging. This model includes a combination of children, adults, aging adults (also with dementia) and caregivers. “The benefits of intergenerational learning,” the model describes, “go far beyond the time spent together and has the potential to change outcomes for both children and adults.”