A Madison parish has agreed to take over efforts to reopen the Catholic Multicultural Center, an outreach ministry to minorities and the poor on the city's South Side that the Madison Catholic Diocese abruptly closed a week ago.

Our Lady Queen of Peace, one of the largest parishes in the diocese with 2,700 families, will lead a community fundraising effort and oversee a planning process, said Michelle Horton, the church's social action director.

Bishop Robert Morlino has OK'd the parish's offer, said Monsignor Daniel Ganshert, the second-highest ranking official in the diocese.

No timeline was given Friday for when the center, 1862 Beld St., might reopen. Andy Russell, the center's former administrator, estimated it would take at least a month - and perhaps several - to work out all of the details and raise enough money. He and the center's six other employees were laid off by the diocese May 29.

Russell said he will help Queen of Peace with reopening the center but said it was too early to know whether he or any of the other employees would return.

The center, which cost about $350,000 a year to operate, offered a range of services, including free meals, a food pantry, citizenship classes and job assistance. The diocese said it was forced to close the center because of a drop in investment income and a diocesan fundraising effort that fell about two-thirds short of its goal.

This spring, the diocese reduced the mandatory taxes it assesses parishes and instituted a first-ever direct appeal to parishioners for money. That appeal needed to raise $3 million to balance the diocesan budget. Ganshert said the effort has so far brought in about $1 million.

Brent King, a diocesan spokesman, said more money probably will come in but that the diocese needed to balance its budget with the start of the July 1 fiscal year. That led to the sudden closure of the center and the layoffs last week of 19 full-time and four part-time diocesan employees out of a staff of 65. (The figure includes the seven laid off at the center.)

Ganshert said Morlino is "deeply appreciative" of the offer by Queen of Peace and its lead pastor, the Rev. Ken Fiedler. Morlino is in Rome for several days guest lecturing to a group of seminarians.

Horton said parishioners at Queen of Peace were deeply troubled by the center's closing. "It's our No. 1 mission to work with the poor," she said. The parish had been heavily involved in supporting the center through volunteers and donations.

She said numerous other parishes have called to offer support. "There's no way we can do it alone," she said.

At a Wednesday meeting at United Way of Dane County, more than 100 people representing most social service organizations in the city pledged to help reopen the center.

No figure has been given for a fundraising goal. Russell said the center's budget and programming will be evaluated with an eye toward efficiencies. Supporters want to make sure they have a solid funding plan so that the center doesn't close again in six months, he said.

Bill Clingan, Madison's community development director, said he was "overjoyed" by Friday's announcement and pledged city assistance to help the center reopen.

"Compared to a couple of days ago, this is wonderful news," he said.

\ IF YOU WANT TO HELP

Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church has designated a fund to help reopen the Catholic Multicultural Center.

Donations can be sent to the parish at 401 S. Owen Drive, Madison, WI 53711.

social action director, at 608-231-4600.

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