Vacant since 2009, building has been costly for parish to maintain
When the original St. Mary’s Lake Church school was nearing the end of its use in the 1940s, some Belgium farmers donated money and land to build a new school.
This time, it appears, there is no saving the old St. Mary’s school that closed in 2009.
The Divine Savior Parish Council’s Finance Committee recommended razing the building in November due to high maintenance costs, Father Todd Budde said.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee approved the razing in December.
“The only thing that has been set or approved is the demolition,” Budde said. “The council has decided to move ahead with that.”
Asbestos must be removed from the school before it can be demolished, which should be completed this month, he said.
Budde said parish members were told of the razing in its winter newsletter and he received no push back.
The building retains plenty of memories, Luxembourg American Cultural Society Executive Director Kevin Wester said.
“When I drive through Lake Church, it’s a place I equate memories with, but they still have the members of the parish,” Wester, who attended the school from 1971 to 1976, said.
Budde agreed, saying it’s difficult to take down a building with a long history.
“We felt this was the best thing to do,” Budde said. “Financially, to put thousands of dollars every year into a building that wasn’t being used didn’t make much sense.”
The original school was established in 1887 in an existing stone building across from the current rectory.
The following year, the school and convent were constructed on Lake Church Road. The school had about 100 students who were taught by Racine Dominican nuns, Wester said.
The school taught students from first to eighth-grade, Wester said, with two nuns running the entire school.
“One nun would teach about 50 of the younger kids and the other nun would teach the older kids,” he said.
Several female students who attended the school later joined the convent, Wester said, noting that nuns taught at the school for more than 100 years.
Eventually, the school downsized to grades one through six, but later added kindergarten classes, Wester said.
The original school remained until the 1970s.
In 1949, Town of Belgium farmer Art Thomas, who didn’t have children, donated land for a new, six-classroom school on Highway D.
“They needed more space and the other building was getting pretty old,” Wester said. “He decided to sell a farm he had and donated a lot of money to build that school.”
Wester said other area farmers, including his grandfather, donated money to help make the new school a reality.
“My dad likes telling the story about his dad who stepped up to the plate and made the school a reality,” Wester said. “It was a school that was very lovingly built.”
The school served three generations of Belgium-area students before closing for good in 2009.
The future of the land is unclear, Parish Council President Don Hamm said in November.
The land owned by the parish includes parcels in residential districts, which limits future use, Hamm said.
The church still has weekly Mass on Thursday mornings and holds weddings, funerals and First Communion ceremonies at the chapel, Budde said.
The parish rectory has been rented for many years and the parish center is used for meetings.