Catholic Diocese Property Sold for $10 Million

By Mike Donoghue
Burlington Free Press
January 3, 2011

Burlington College completed its purchase of the Vermont Diocese headquarters on Friday.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has completed the sale of its headquarters at 351 North Ave. to Burlington College for $10 million to help pay for the recent settlement in about two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits involving priests in Vermont.

The diocese and the college finished signing the final paperwork late Friday, according to a statement from the Most Rev. Salvatore R. Matano, bishop of the statewide diocese.

With the sale of the central administration building, the diocesan offices will move into leased space at 55 Joy Drive in South Burlington at the end of May. The property is owned by Pizzagalli Properties and has been offered “at a very reasonable rate,” Matano said in a two-page statement. The property abuts Rice Memorial High School, one of two Catholic high schools left in Vermont.

In the interim, the diocese will continue to occupy the first and third floors of the new section at 351 North Avenue under an agreement with Burlington College. Burlington College’s administration will occupy the second floor and begin its renovations in the remainder of the building, College President Jane Sanders told the Burlington Free Press.

The 32.4 acre property, includes a 77,000 square foot four-story structure that once housed St. Joseph Orphanage and slopes down to Lake Champlain. The sale completes the largest land deal in recent years in Burlington, she said.

The $10 million sale price, which had been kept a secret when the proposed sale was first announced on May 24, 2010, exceeds the appraisals done on the property as it exists, Matano said. The Diocese first publicly listed the property at $12.5 million.

On May 13, the diocese reached a $17.65 million out-of-court settlement in 26 lawsuits alleging long-ago child molestation by priests in Vermont. The diocese also agreed to pay undisclosed amounts to settle three cases that were on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.

The diocese still has the former Camp Tara-Holy Cross property — located on 26.5 acres on Lake Champlain in Colchester — on the real estate market, the Bishop noted. It was first marketed at $7.5 million.

Matano, in his statement, reaffirmed earlier comments that the settlement will not come from parish members.

“The costs of the settlements are the sole responsibility of the Diocese and that no funds from parishes, institutions, charitable agencies of the Diocese or the Bishop’s Fund have been used for past settlements, and none are being used to meet the financial obligations resulting from these settlement,” Matano wrote.

“The intention of donors have been and continue to be respected and upheld,” he said.

He said the unrestricted diocesan reserves “have been depleted to satisfy the financial costs of these settlements.”

Matano, who took control of the diocese in 2005, inherited many of the legal issues that stemmed from actions by his predecessors. Matano noted while progress was made to bring the lawsuits to a conclusion, the Diocese still has more work ahead.

“There will be no end to the mandate that we all have to protect our children,” he wrote. Matano said that the Diocesan’s Office of Safe Environment Programs has been recognized as a leader in its current efforts.

“Ongoing programs for clergy, religious. laity. both employees and volunteers, are in place to educate the faithful about child abuse and to know how to respond to any situation which might place our children at risk or cause harm.”

College President Jane Sanders said the sign-off at People’s United Bank in Burlington began at 10 a.m. Friday and never finished until 4 p.m., but it was well worth the wait.

“We are so excited it went through,” Sanders said on Sunday. “The whole process has been a nine month process. People were giving up their New Year’s Eve to make it happen.”

Burlington College, which was founded in 1972, has sold its main building at 95 North Ave. to the Committee of Temporary Shelter (COTS). She said COTS administration will move immediately into the third floor of the current BC building, which formerly served as Colody’s Market at North Avenue and North Street.

She said the college will lease the first two floors to complete this academic year.

“We are very excited. The college has been growing and we are at capacity at our current building,” she said. The college hopes to grow from 200 students to about 400 over the next five years, Sanders said. It would include building some residence halls on the land, she said.

Sanders said inquiries from prospective students are up 45 percent over a year ago.

“We will be doing all kinds of planning over the next six months,” she said.

The building, including the unused portions, is in good shape, according to inspectors, she said. The former orphanage had not been used since about 1986 when it housed some Vietnamese refugees, Sanders said.

“The building was incredibly well made in 1881. The bricks were fired in Winooski. We were surprised they have kept it up. Very little has to be done,” Sanders said.

She said while some BC students had mixed feelings about the move down North Avenue, they were excited once they got the tour. She said the college will be able to provide food service.

“We’ll be the only (Vermont) college with a beach,” Sanders said.

Contact Mike Donoghue at 660-1845 or


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