One more heir comes forward to claim his share of Catholic school building

One more heir comes forward to claim his share of Catholic school building


One person remains to challenge Billings Catholic Schools' effort to take over the deed to its former middle school building and sell it.

An attorney for David F. Cunningham filed a court brief on Friday seeking to claim his family's one-sixth interest in the former site of St. Francis Upper.

The court filing says that Kate Fratt, the wealthy Billings widow who gifted the property to the Catholic Diocese more than a century ago, intended to leave part of the property's value to family members as noted in the school's deed and Fratt's will.

Fratt donated the land and money to the Diocese to build a school in 1916. She stipulated in the deed that if the property wasn't used as a parochial school, interest in the title reverts to other parties.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, on behalf of Billings Catholic Schools, has been working since the summer to get full ownership of the deed so it can sell the property.

The Diocese believes that because the school operated for 99 years, the parochial school requirement was "satisfied," according to court documents.

To that end, it gave notice to 434 potential heirs spanning multiple generations. Most of those heirs have lost their potential claims by not responding to the court case. A handful of others gave up their challenge to the Diocese's effort.

Cunningham remains the only holdout. He's working on behalf of his mother, Burnley Cunningham Wadsworth, who is the great-granddaughter-in-law of Annie Morrissey. Morrissey was Fratt's sister, according to court filings.

The filing included Fratt's will, which split the residuary estate into six shares. Some individual shares went to groups of family members. Others went to specific family members, like Annie Morrissey.

One share went to the Diocese, and another went to the corporation owning St. Vincent Hospital. The hospital signed over its share to the Diocese in 1987.

Cunningham's court filing says that representatives for the Diocese approached the family in the 1980s about donating their interest in the property. The family declined, and in 1987 Wadsworth granted Cunningham, her son, power of attorney specifically for matters related to the school property, according to court documents.

The Diocese hasn't yet responded to Cunningham's claim. Janyce Haider, president of the Billings Catholic Schools Foundation, said on Wednesday that it's still their intention to take over the deed and sell the building.

Cunningham's attorney didn't return a call on Wednesday. The court filing requests a judge to recognize the family's one-sixth share of the property. They're also requesting an appraisal.

County tax records showed the value of the downtown property is $1.8 million in 2017.


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