The restoration phase of the Steeple Square project has reached the halfway point, according to organizers who held an open house/informational meeting Sunday.

The project will transform the former St. Mary’s Catholic Parish property at 15th and White streets into a campus offering a community/event center, 12 apartments, offices for nonprofit organizations and child care.

“We’re in the restoration stage and I suppose we are half of the way through the restoration stage,” said Rev. Gene Kutsch, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and a member of the Steeple Square board of directors. “That will continue for a couple more years yet.

It will include the tower and the steeple and the school being renovated into apartments.”

Organizers estimate the restoration phase will cost $12 million. Organizers have raised or received pledges for $7 million — leaving $5 million to raise.

“I’m so excited about what’s going to happen to this square block,” said Michelle Brown, executive director of Opening Doors and a Steeple Square board member.

Opening Doors operates the Maria House transitional housing program and Teresa Shelter. The Maria House opened in 2000 in a church campus building at 1561 Jackson St. Eight of the 12 apartments created at the former parish school will be rented to graduates of the Maria House or Teresa Shelter, providing supportive housing.

“There is a real shortage of affordable housing for them,” Brown said.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was constructed in 1867. The parish was consolidated by the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 2010, ending 150 years of worship at the German-Catholic church. The property’s title was transferred to a coalition of business and community leaders called Friends of St. Mary’s.

Kutsch estimated that a complete, three-phase transformation of the campus, including developing green space at the site of a former parking lot will be completed by early 2019.

Ellen Lau, of Dubuque, brought her niece, Lisa Francese, of Anaheim, Calif., to Sunday’s open house.

Lau and Francese snapped smartphone photos of the interior of the former church.

“It’s outstanding, it’s so beautiful,” Francese said.

Losing the historic structure, Francese said, “would have been heartbreaking.”

Lau agreed.

“In Dubuque, we treasure our old buildings,” Lau said. “My grandmother went to church here and had her First Communion here and went to school here. I’m so glad Lisa is here so I could show her it.”

BY ERIK HOGSTROM
As published in Dubuque Telegraph Herald. View article here.