The City of Monona has reached agreement with St. Norbert Abbey of De Pere to purchase
the historic San Damiano property at 4123 Monona Drive. The purchase agreement, in the
amount of $8.6M, was unanimously approved by the Monona City Council at the September
8th meeting. Pending approval by the Vatican as required by canon law, if all goes as
planned Monona will take ownership of the property in June 2021.
“We are very excited to have reached an agreement with St. Norbert Abbey to purchase the San Damiano property. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Monona to significantly increase public access to the lakefront and waters of Lake Monona in addition to increasing our public open space. While Monona enjoys more than four miles of shoreline, over eighty percent of Monona residents would not have lake access were it not for our smaller parks and launches. It will be a tremendous asset for the City,” said Monona Mayor Mary O’Connor.
At just under ten acres, San Damiano includes over 1,000 feet of frontage on Lake Monona.
Much of the grounds are wooded. The house and property are part of the original farm
developed by Allis-Chalmers heir Frank Allis in the 1880’s. The land, as is true of much of the area, was originally inhabited by Native Americans, including ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation. After it was given to the Norbertines in 1929, it was used as a Norbertine Novitiate and house of studies and later was leased to the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph
as a retreat house and home for elderly religious. During the latter period, the property
came to be known as San Damiano Friary.
The Norbertines announced their intention to sell San Damiano earlier this year. In March,
Monona reached an understanding with the Abbey to provide a six-month window so the
City could determine the feasibility of raising private and public funds for purchase of the
Over the last six months, in addition to hearing from many local residents, city-hired
consultant, David Allen and members of a small steering committee, have met with various
community members and representatives from a variety of governmental, environmental
and philanthropic organizations to gauge their interest in supporting such a purchase. The
consensus from those meetings was that the property should be preserved as a public asset and that there are groups and individuals who would like to financially contribute to that effort. Comments received on the potential purchase included:
• “it would be criminal for it to be privately developed for the enjoyment of only a
• “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,”
• “the public access to the Lake and the preservation of the views is as large of an
opportunity as I can see us ever having,”
• “a public space cherished for generations to come, much as Winnequah Park is
A referendum is being considered for the ballot in April 2021, prior to closing, to further
gauge community support for the preservation of the property. More information will be
Public funding from the County and State will be pursued in support of the purchase. In
addition, the City and a newly formed not-for-profit called, Friends of San Damiano, intend
to move forward with a capital fundraising campaign in support of the site’s master
planning, development as a treasured Lake Monona destination, and eventual operations.
Generating significant private funds will be critical to the City’s ability to purchase and
develop the site for the enjoyment of all. “I’m so happy for Monona. It was truly our one and only chance to save this unique property for everyone to enjoy. The Friends of San
Damiano is proud to be a part of a city effort to preserve this green space and we look
forward to partnering with the City to envision a wonderful experience for future visitors
and raise the necessary resources,” said Friends President, Andrew Kitslaar.