MELBOURNE, FLA. — Catholic students at one secular university in Florida soon will have a dormitory all their own.

In a historic collaboration, Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando, Fla., Anthony J. Catanese, president of Florida Institute of Technology, Matt Zerrusen, president of the Newman Student Housing Fund, and Salvatorian Fr. Douglas Bailey, chaplain of Catholic campus ministry at the school, participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking for Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Student Residence on Dec. 7.

The ceremony was the second in as many months at a secular university in which housing specifically designated for Catholic students is being constructed.

A similar ceremony took place Oct. 3 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville for St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center, which includes a dormitory and chapel.

The Newman Student Housing Fund is financing the new residence hall at the Florida school. The dormitory will house 140 students beginning in the fall. Once the dormitory is completed, construction of a chapel will begin.

“Fifty percent of students on college campuses lose their faith by the time they graduate,” Zerrusen said. “This is unacceptable. It is a huge, huge deal in campus ministry, and all the Newman Centers want to add dorms. These are the first, the pioneers.

“We are creating authentic Catholic campuses inside secular ones,” he said. “If we want a way to change the culture of campus life and affect the future of our country, this is a big way of doing that. We can’t sit back and watch these kids go uncatechized. We’ve got to do something, and we are.”

Noonan recalled how in 1513, Ponce de Leon* brought the Catholic faith to what is now St. Augustine, Fla., and that the project provides one more example of the growth of the church’s presence in the state.

“It’s important for us to remember Christianity’s coming,” he said. “Pope Benedict has declared this the Year of Faith and we must be renewed in our faith.”

Noonan said renewing God in the lives of young adults is vital in today’s world.

“We educate the whole person: mind, body and spirit. It’s the foundation of our faith and very important for our students — especially a residence hall where they’ll live spiritual as well as academic lives,” he said.

Catanese recalled the institution’s history, pointing to its growth since its founding in 1958 near the start of the space age.

“There are 6,000 students on campus here, 2,000 students on military bases and 7,000 students online,” Catanese said of the number of enrollees in campus academic programs. “It’s a tough university. Technology can be used for great good. A residence hall is where you develop a community.

“This residence hall is faith-based and will help our students develop their sense of values and use technology for great good. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Student Residence is a tribute to the Catholic Church, to Florida Tech, the Newman Student Housing Fund and Father Doug Bailey,” he said.

Bailey celebrated the first Mass for FIT students in 1983 in a garage at an old house. Through his vision and efforts, an All Faiths Center and a chapel seating 300 eventually were built. He also took a leading role in planning for the new residence hall.

“Five years ago, a chapel and wing for a dorm like at the University of Illinois, Champaign, were first considered,” Bailey told Catholic News Service. “But it wasn’t until Matt and Bill Zerrusen visited and looked at this land that my sleepless nights began. Is FIT big enough? Is it Catholic enough? I wondered, but I never once doubted the ideal. We believe God is the most important truth and thank God for getting us to this point.”

Noonan, who has spent much of his priesthood working in youth and young adult ministry, said he understands the significance of the new venture.

“One and a half years ago, I had to explore and understand the idea of the residence hall and it was exciting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the completion of this project and looking to how we can duplicate it throughout the diocese.”

Bishop W. Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi, described the Texas project as a “connection made in heaven.”

“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,” the bishop told CNS. “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.”

With completion expected in August, the building will house 287 students. A 300-seat chapel and a Newman Center also will be built once the students move in.

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated who brought Catholicism to Florida.

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