Life abounds in multigenerational apartment complex on college campus

February 15, 2023


Local retirees, single mothers and their children and retired members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province all are making a home together at Trinity Woods, a four-story apartment complex on the verdant 80-acre campus of Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. From all accounts, the intergenerational living arrangements are a grand success.

Trinity Woods opened in December 2021 as a three-way partnership between Milwaukee Catholic Home, a retirement community that offers independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care on its Milwaukee campus; the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province; and Mount Mary University, a private Catholic university for women sponsored by the Notre Dame order.

Milwaukee Catholic Home manages Trinity Woods.


"Our board, which includes some School Sisters of Notre Dame, is very intentional about honoring our ministry of service to others in the Roman Catholic faith tradition," said David Fulcher, chief executive of Milwaukee Catholic Home. "The genesis of Trinity Woods was to provide housing for some of the aging sisters, but we also realized that some students at Mount Mary University may be single moms who don't have a lot of resources available."

Fulcher added that as his board considered an intergenerational living arrangement, they recognized that "a tight-knit community with mentoring and a shared sense of purpose" could benefit single mothers, older adults including couples and singles, and the sisters.

Residents enjoy a summer concert at Trinity Woods on the grounds of Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. The four-story apartment complex combines independent and assisted living units for members of a School Sisters of Notre Dame congregation with market-rate independent living apartments for seniors and apartments for university students including single mothers.

"In our research though, we were hard-pressed to find a truly intergenerational retirement community that is doing what we're doing," he said. "It would be great if Trinity Woods could serve as model."

Comfort in community
The $45 million complex was a design challenge for the architects, Fulcher said. "We've got a chapel, a fitness center, an outdoor courtyard, a day care center, a beauty salon and a community dining room that accommodates high chairs for babies and seating for adults. We made sure the residential living areas for the students and their children are secure, and now we're working on ways to engage everyone — music concerts, art classes, happy hours and Sunday night movies for kids."

Trinity Woods has 52 independent living and assisted living units for the Sisters of Notre Dame, 90 market-rate independent living apartments for individuals and couples 55 and older and 24 furnished units for single mothers enrolled at Mount Mary University and their children under the age of 12.

The units for students and children measure 656 square feet, with two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and a small kitchenette with a refrigerator and microwave oven. Each floor has a laundry room and a lounge with a television and a stove. The students pay $1,200 a month, which includes meal plans for moms and their children, utilities and parking. As of late January, eight single mothers were in residence, with 11 children among them. Five graduate students who live at Trinity Woods do not have children.


Miya D. Rogers, 35, is one of the moms. A doctoral student at Mount Mary, she is in her second year working toward a degree in counselor education and supervision. A licensed professional counselor who previously worked in South Carolina, Rogers also teaches part time at the university. She moved in with her two young boys in January 2022.

"When I toured Trinity Woods, I determined it was a good fit for me and my sons. I wanted some stability, a place to call our own, a safe and loving environment," she said. "I love living here among people who have so much wisdom and so much life experience — it's a total blessing. We all can learn from one another, and I hope more communities become more open to this kind of opportunity."


Diana Fontanez, 28, and her daughter moved in in August. She is a junior at Mount Mary, studying communications. "We are so blessed to live here," she said. "I've had time to talk with some of the sisters at lunch, and that's had a big impact on me. One told me she used to be a first grade teacher, and I was able to ask her questions about my daughter and my fears about doing the right thing. The sister was able to ground me, and reminded me my daughter is so lucky to have a mom like me. A weight lifted off me that day."

Fontanez's daughter also gets support from the other residents. "She is close to another child here, and has a bond with a mom and her son, who is 2. The sisters all praise her for helping him," she said. "And when we see some of the senior residents, it's wonderful the way they greet us and chitchat with us, ask us how it's going."


Marguerite Guy, 78, and Katie Lisa, 77, are two of the seniors who moved to Trinity Woods because of its intergenerational component. Together with residents June McClain and Carol Fibich, the women come up with ways to mix the generations and brighten the days of the single mothers and their children.

"The mission here appealed to me," said Guy, a retired schoolteacher and principal who moved in almost a year ago. "This seemed like a perfect place for me, and I decided I wanted to be a part of this wonderful ministry," she said. "I'm already like a grandma in the lives of many moms, and I also work with young adults in my church."


Guy said the residents' committee she is active on is planning to provide welcome baskets for the moms with cleaning products, toiletries and other essentials. The committee set up an "angel tree" for Christmas. "The moms put their names on it and listed whatever gifts they or their children would like," she said. All of the mothers received a few small gifts as well as a handmade quilt, which had been donated by residents and people from the area who heard about the angel tree.

Trinity Woods seniors bought toys and knit blankets for all the children. There were hand knitted hats and scarves for moms and kids.

Last month the residents committee hosted its first tea to give the seniors and their young neighbors an opportunity to socialize. This month it will host a tea at the university that is open to all students. Lisa and Guy both said they look forward to learning about the students' career choices and goals in life and sharing some things about themselves.

"I wanted to live in a community where I would find purpose and meaning in the last chapter of my life," said Lisa, a retired social worker. "I'm healthy, I'm active and I'm interested in people, interested in making connections. We have so much to offer each other."


Copyright © 2023 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.