2023 Fall Conference To Feature ND Alumni Making Impact in the Church

David Murphy

This year's annual Fall Church Properties Conference, held on campus from October 29-31, will feature dozens of speakers from a wide range of academic, industry, and Church leadership backgrounds. Many Notre Dame alumni who will be speaking back at their alma mater on the ways in which they are serving their communities and neighbors through Church property. Meet some of the alumni who will be presenting! 

Deacon Pat Toole ('84) spent decades working up to the highest echelons of IBM, but always felt the tug to continue to pursue an even higher calling, eventually being ordained as a deacon in June 2011 in his home diocese of Bridgeport, CT. Beyond his pastoral role, he has taken key administrative roles within the diocese as well, including his current role as chancellor where he helps oversee the real assets of the diocese. 

Deacon Pat Toole, (ND '84) at his ordination as a permanent deacon.
Deacon Pat Toole ('84) at his ordination as a Catholic deacon.

Faced with declining religiosity, shifting demographics, fewer priests, and soaring deferred maintenance costs, the diocese's real assets strategy was in dire straits. Deacon Pat quickly assessed the situation through gathering and analyzing key data and began to think outside the box for solutions. Over time, he and the rest of the team at the diocese began finding ways to transform old, underused property into mission aligned assets. A young religious order was invited in to resurrect a closed Catholic high school, which is now flourishing. An empty urban parking lot is now home to shipping containers filled with sophisticated hydroponic equipment, allowing for year round sustainable organic farming that creates both nutritional food and jobs in the local community. He even helped broker a deal with a local Catholic university to transform a closed parish in a minority neighborhood into a campus for Black and Latino students to get their associates degrees for free. 


Pilar Closkey ('89) studied civil engineering as an undergrad here at Notre Dame and is returning to talk about her incredible work as the executive Director of the Saint Joseph's Carpenter Society (SJCS). Based out of Camden, New Jersey, SJCS was founded by Camden native Monsignor Bob McDermott who used his parish as the beachhead to rejuvenate an entire neighborhood.

Today, Pilar helps oversee a multi-neighborhood operation that redevelops neighborhoods from within by repairing and/or renovating existing homes and teaching locals about home ownership. SJCS boasts 1,027 homes that have been rehabbed, 3,340 graduates from their home buying academy, 526 houses repaired, and an 85% homeowner retention rate. Pilar's innovation, subject matter expertise, and deep commitment to serve reflect's what Notre Dame alum are capable of doing when they connect the mind and the heart for a noble purpose like healing a community torn apart by blight and financial ruin. 


Will Peterson ('14, '16 M.Ed) was a proud O'Neill resident in his time in undergrad, and even won Bengal Bouts his freshman year. After graduating, he was a Catholic school teacher in Memphis while he served in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). His experiences in the classroom helped reignite his faith, and this led him to re-examine the longstanding Christian practice of pilgrimage not as a lofty, international trip to some exotic place 'out there' but as a spiritual encounter that one can have in any place. 

This pursuit led him to pivot from teaching to starting Modern Catholic Pilgrim in 2017 to bring the tradition of walked pilgrimage and hospitality to as many people as possible. Given that one walks from one place to another, place plays a central role in pilgrimage. Understanding the theology of place helps deepen the understanding of pilgrimage and our purpose here on earth, and thus intersects with the topic of Church Property in a number of ways. Will will speak to this connection at the conference, providing a unique theological lense through which we can explore Church property.


Anthony Grumbine (M. Arch '07) is a principal at one of the nation's premier firms for scared architecture and has won numerous awards for his designs. His projects have brought to life the sacred in unique matter and forms throughout the country on college campuses, ornate churches, and simple remote chapels. Of particular interest is how we as a church not only design new spaces in light of a 2,000 year old tradition, but how to think creatively about the glut of beautiful, ornate, and priceless churches in many urban areas. Before cars and before the Second Vatican Council, Catholics walked to their local parish that was largely a product of urban ethnic neighborhood boundaries. Often, these communities produced beautiful churches mere blocks from each other. Today, many Catholics live in suburbs and use personal cars to drive around, leaving the high density of urban churches as a major financial drag that require major upkeep. 

But what if those churches could be moved to places where there is Catholic growth, such as in suburbs? Anthony is applying his expertise to explore this question. Moving churches could preserve historical and culturally significant buildings, reduce the carbon footprint to build new, and potentially even lower the cost of the overall project given that 19th and 20th century designs would be prohibitively expensive to build today.