Faith-based residence halls increase at secular universities

The groundbreaking for the Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Student Residence Hall at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in Melbourne, Fla., was the most recent event in what is becoming a trend: Secular universities are collaborating with Catholic dioceses to provide faith-based living quarters to their students. 

The Newman Student Housing Fund is providing financing for the 140-bed residence hall, scheduled for completion in August. It is also financing a 287-bed residence hall at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. 

“It fits both the mission and vision of the university,” Steven H. Tallant, Texas A&M-Kingsville president, said. “The model we’ve done here is a model I think is unique — a spiritual living community owned by the Catholic Church, but surrounded by university property. We want our students to grow and learn in all dimensions and to acquire values that make them responsible citizens.” 

Bishop W. Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi agreed. 

“These young people are in an environment to support their faith — that protects and nourishes their faith all along,” he said. “I would hope the Newman Center would nourish religious vocations and 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.”

Crucial part of life

At Troy University in Troy, Ala., the Archdiocese of Mobile has entered into a 25-year renewable lease agreement for a 2,400-square-foot Newman Center within a new 376-bed residence hall.  

“The National Survey of Student Engagement has consistently shown that 70 percent of our students consider spiritual values important in their lives,” said John W. Schmidt, senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations, “and the board asked what we are doing to foster these values.” 

The University Foundation is building the $11.8 million spiritually based residence hall. Students must submit a recommendation from their pastor, minister or a community leader and maintain a sound grade-point average. They will be required to attend a religious service or perform a community-based service weekly.

Inspirational model

Since 1928, the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has included a Catholic dormitory. Newman Hall has expanded its outreach and now houses 586 students. It is the inspiration for the other faith-based residence halls. 

“We have the largest retention rate of any dorm on campus and we believe that’s a reflection of the experience we provide. I tell the students, ‘You will have only one chance to have the awesome experience of living in a Catholic community. You’re going to have a lifetime to live in an apartment or home — take advantage of this opportunity now,’” said Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, director and head chaplain. 

Laura Dodson writes from Florida.

Newman Student Housing Fund
The Newman Student Housing Fund was established by the Zerrusen family, which has supported the vision of a Catholic dormitory on a secular campus at the University of Illinois-Champaign campus. Its mission is to build facilities where students can live their faith on secular college campuses all across the United States. These communities are attached to, or in close proximity to, Catholic campus ministries on campus. NSHF services include development, construction, management and financing for projects.