Church properties represent substantial assets
As the largest non-governmental landowner in the world, the Catholic Church has amassed a diverse and global portfolio of parishes, schools, monasteries, cemeteries, hospitals, and more—combining to an estimated 177 million acres.
Yet, as the world's largest social services provider, the Church is not organized to answer complex real estate questions. Its decentralized structure has left many Church property decision-makers to navigate the legal, financial, architectural, and canonical challenges alone.
Launched in 2021, the Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate’s Church Properties Initiative (CPI) is helping the Church to think through these real estate concerns. Students and top researchers from every college at Notre Dame aid CPI in engaging with Church leadership and tapping into innovative solutions from industry practitioners to create actionable change that turns the Church’s land into a powerful force for good.
Through a variety of research and educational programs, CPI is working to help scholars, policymakers, and religious leaders to understand the impact of their property decisions on local dioceses and surrounding communities.
Be Part of the Discussion: Join us at a Conference
Thank you to all who joined us at the University of Notre Dame for The Future of Church Property on November 7-9, 2022! Session recordings will be available online shortly.
Recorded keynotes from our Spring 2022 conference in Rome are available here.
Globally Reimagining Church Properties
As churches and dioceses work to address their real estate challenges, many feel isolated, without resources, and limited in options. Yet, around the world, there are examples of innovation and imagination that provide sustainable solutions. Presently, these are done at the hyper-local level and often these ideas, best practices, and resources cannot inform the broader Catholic imagination.
The CPI is working to research, connect with, and index these best practices to help the global Church learn from local examples that address pressing the issues of job creation, community building, serving those with disabilities, climate change, and more.
The Church is one of the largest providers of senior, affordable, temporary, and emergency housing. Catholic Charities develops underutilized Church property into new senior care facilities, FIRE affiliate QuoVadis turns old convents and rectories into affordable young adult Catholic housing, and Catholic organizations in St Louis are using tiny homes built by high school students to address homelessness. The CPI is researching how these initiatives can be paired up with sophisticated financing and religious liberty resources to ensure they can operate with even more impact.
Some parishes have realized that coffee and donuts after mass isn’t the only way to brew community. Holy Grounds, a parish-based coffee shop in Santa Monica, employs formerly incarcerated people looking to learn a new skill, while Brother Andre Cafe, a Pittsburgh coffee shop opened in an underutilized parish property and is run by those with disabilities. Similarly in Rome, the Community of Sant’Egidio used an empty Church property to open Trattoria del gli Amici, a restaurant staffed by those with disabilities in the community. The success in Rome has sparked other initiatives, including the transformation of an old parish property into an art gallery and studio for the disabled. The CPI is working to learn the nuances of business, law, real estate, and architecture to ensure that these and other organizations can address local community needs while also building up social and spiritual capital.
St Joseph’s Home for the Aging, a Singapore nursing home that combines a senior care facility with a children’s daycare, which allows for intergenerational interaction and learning. This creative use of Church property in a landlocked city has reimagined the use of space to create immense social and spiritual capital for the community. In another rural region of France, monastic communities tending the papal vineyards have created a social enterprise model that supports local winemakers and farmers. The CPI is researching the role of the Church as a social enterprise that leverages the Church’s property through research in Ecuador, the United States, Italy, across Africa, and in the Philippines.
Catholic Energies is a green energies company that leverages the Church’s vast landholdings to develop sustainable solar farms that create green energy and revenue streams for the Church. At a local level, the St Kateri Conservation Center promotes planting native plants at local parishes, even inner city urban parishes with no green space to help promote healthy local wildlife. The CPI is working to ensure that the Church is leading by example by stewarding the earth and the land in innovative ways.
French nuns have returned to the rural 12th century Boulaur Abbey and have begun a farm to support themselves, inviting a local agricultural school into the abbey lands and creating the community's first grocery store. In Italy, Benedictine monks have returned to a 16th-century monastery in Norcia, the hometown of St Benedict. The monks brew beer to help support themselves. Both communities are not only renovating the ancient structures, but also at the same time partnering with the local community to put the Church at the center of the cultural, economic, and spiritual fabric of the region. The CPI is helping to connect these projects with global networks of other growing monastic communities as well as real estate practitioners, and academic experts who work on Church property issues.
The CPI welcomes engagement from church officials, faculty, students, industry, and alumni who are interested in partnering. To learn more about the Institute's research and educational programs in Church properties, please contact David Murphy or Maddy Johnson.