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TAMUK - Expanding Their Campus Presence

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Nov. 14, 2012

By: Laura Dodson, Freelance

Golden shovels pierced the dirt in a landmark collaboration on October 3 at Texas A & M University-Kingsville, Texas bringing dreams and plans for kingdom-living to a groundbreaking reality. Officials from the Diocese of Corpus Christi, the University, Newman Student Housing Fund (NSHF), the local community and students gathered to celebrate the dormitory, chapel and St Thomas Aquinas Newman Center soon to rise from the landscape.

“It’s a connection made in heaven,” said Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey,STL,DD, Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi.

“We were going to build the Newman Center, but to add the housing – made possible through the Newman Student Housing Fund – it became the seamless garment approach for these young people. It’s giving them the opportunity to develop the whole person – not only intellectual, but spiritual development as well. They’re in an environment to support their faith — that protects and nourishes their faith all along.”

A swap made it possible. The Catholic student community had outgrown their Newman Center, strategically located near the main entrance of the university. The university needed a welcome center for alumni, but also had several acres of land unused and available near the stadium.

“We’re very excited about the project,” said Dr. Steven H. Tallant, Texas A&M University-Kingsville President. “It fits both the mission and vision of the university. This campus has great potential to become a residential living and learning environment for our students to grow academically, socially, psychologically and spiritually. Spirituality is a method of learning. As a secular university we’re very good at all but the spiritual. We have nine living-learning centers providing a variety of environments for students to grow in all dimensions and to acquire values that make them responsible citizens. The model we have here is unique and exciting.”

With anticipated completion in August 2013, construction will include a 287 bed dormitory, a 300 seat chapel and Newman Center. The dormitory is funded and will be operated through the NSHF. The diocese owns the center and chapel.

“Essentially the idea and vision for faith-based student housing comes from Blessed John Henry Newman,” said Matthew Zerrusen, President of the Newman Student Housing Fund. “He had a vision that the Catholic Church build small Catholic ‘universities’ inside the realm and physical property of the secular university. In many instances secular universities can offer students a larger platform of educational options and degrees as compared to their Catholic counterparts.  Yet, these students who choose the secular university should still have a place to call home - still have a place to practice and grow in their faith - a place where they can express themselves religiously - a place that not only protects and defends faith, but one that places faith at the heart of its mission. We believe this facility will not only transform young adults in their college years but have a great impact on the campus and in the diocese.  This place will be a shining beacon where Christ will truly radiate and impact all who enter.”

Vonique Rodriguez is a 19 year-old sophomore majoring in psychology who is currently living at home, working part-time at St. Gertrude Parish in Kingsville and helps out at the Newman Center.

“I’m hoping to be a resident advisor in the new dorm,” Rodriguez said. “This new center and dorm will bring us even more together. I’m learning with my faith as well as academically. Every day, if we need help with our faith, relationships, family, school work — there is always someone at the Center to help guide us in the right direction.”

Nina Joiner retired after teaching school for 32 years, started volunteering at the Newman Center five years ago and is now the Campus Minister coordinating a multitude of volunteers who provide a never–ending supply of food and faith.

“Many kids have never been away from home,” explained Joiner. “Kids know they can come and get food at any time. We provide a home environment for them. Students feel welcome and know they matter. Their belief in their faith keeps them going. We’re feeding their souls as well as their bodies.”

Every Thursday, volunteers serve lunch for 350 - 500 students.

“Parents want their kids to find a church facility that is close,” said Matthew Luna, a 23 year-old senior, planning to continue for a graduate degree. “I would jump at the opportunity to live in the Catholic dorm especially because it’s so close to the chapel and center. Students can live with other Catholic students next to the church and stay connected to their faith. This is truly a blessing to have funding and support to make this happen.”

Bishop Mulvey cited still another blessing of the new construction.

“There will be a back door to the adoration chapel – a quiet place before the Blessed Sacrament where students can pray for the needs of others and for their own needs. When the seed of the call of God is present, they need that environment for the seed to grow and come to life. I would hope the Newman Center would nourish not just the religious vocations, but lay involvement in politics, medicine, technology knowing that Christ is the center of all human endeavor and these young people can be prepared in these endeavors and in the Christian life.”

The Newman Student Housing Fund is collaborating with Newman Centers on college campuses throughout the country to bring this vision and concept to fruition.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the Diocese of Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University-Kingsville,” Zerrusen said. “They immediately understood the concept of faith-based housing and saw the value it could bring to not only the campus, but the community.  We are excited!”