UW-Madison campus ministry numbers explode Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Carolyn Averill, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 18, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- Since 1909, St. Paul University Catholic Center has been a home for the thousands of Catholic students attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In particular, the undergraduate ministry has seen tremendous growth in the past 10 years as the vision and programs have undergone a major transformation.

St. Paul’s exists primarily to serve the students at UW– Madison, offering a wide array of programming to reach a student population of over 42,000, of which over 10,000 were raised Catholic. With an expanding pastoral staff and continued investment in outreach and programming, St. Paul’s is better equipped to reach out to students on campus and help them mature intellectually, spiritually, and morally.

Faith and reason in college

St. Paul’s presence at a public institution provides a setting in which students can discover the relationship between faith and reason. Fr. Eric Nielsen, pastor of St. Paul’s, described how “in order to know God you must approach him with both your faith and your reason. Without either of those two a person will eventually settle into skepticism or religious fanaticism.”

At St. Paul’s, Father Nielsen continued, “it is our goal to develop in each student a profound faith that does not contradict the depth of knowledge that they should naturally acquire in a university education.”

On a weekly basis, over 1,000 students take part in a wide variety of liturgies, events, and programs. These include weekly Bible studies, retreats, high school retreat planning team, Service Team, winter and spring break service trips, Liturgy Team, weekly large group gatherings, social events, and more.

A reflection of the full schedules of many college students, St. Paul’s is consistently filled with the energy of college life from 7 a.m. until midnight.

Bible studies in dorms, apartments

Outside the student center, students across campus participate in weekly Bible studies in their dorm rooms and apartments.

For UW-Madison student Reid Rice, the small group is a place to “actively seek out answers to our questions” and “deepen our understanding of Christ’s teachings.”

You are invited

Inaugural St. Paul’s Spring Wine Fest

• Saturday May 1, 2010

• 6 p.m. Wine tasting begins

• 6:45 p.m. Dinner begins, honored guest — Bishop Robert C. Morlino

• Edgewater Hotel, 666 Wisconsin Ave., Madison

• $60/person or group of four for $200

* RSVP by April 23, 2010, to 608-258-3140 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

A notable example of recent growth, participation in Bible studies has increased 64 percent over the last academic year. Such growth is expected to continue as St. Paul’s anticipates 60 total men’s and women’s study groups for fall 2010, up from 35 this year.

Sacramental life

The liturgy is a foundational aspect of the community of St. Paul’s and in strengthening the faith of the students.

Students are encouraged to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Each week, Mass is offered twice daily and four times on Sundays.

It is also not uncommon to see a line of students waiting to receive the sacrament of Confession during the half hour before each Mass.

Two years ago St. Paul’s started a weekly Wednesday night Candlelight Vigil Mass at 9 p.m., which now regularly draws 100 students and is a sign of the desire of young people to deepen their faith.

Impact on the diocese

After graduation, over one-third of all UW-Madison alumni stay to reside and work in the Diocese of Madison. As such, St. Paul’s plays a significant role in the spiritual formation of the diocese.

These graduates become our teachers, doctors, and other business professionals. They also become active leaders in our Church communities and work with many other important local organizations.

St. Paul’s is also a place where young people discern their vocation. Of the 25 current seminarians in the Diocese of Madison, nine were impacted by the ministry of St. Paul’s, including Deacon David Carrano of Stoughton, who will be ordained to the priesthood in June 2010.

By the time students graduate, Father Nielsen intends that these students have been given the tools to know and hear God in their hearts. The ability to understand God permeates the life of an individual, Father Nielsen described, since “in responding to God’s love for us, we find the ability to choose a way of life that calls us out of ourselves in service of others.”

Inaugural Spring Wine Fest

On Saturday May 1, 2010, St. Paul’s is hosting its inaugural Spring Wine Fest at the Edgewater Hotel in Madison. The night will open at 6 p.m. with wine tasting featuring wines from across the world and foods inspired by the flavors of Italy, France, and Wisconsin.

All are invited to join Bishop Robert C. Morlino and many other St. Paul’s benefactors to learn more about and support Catholic campus ministry in the Diocese of Madison. Tickets are $60 per person or a group of four for $200.

For more information, visit or to attend the Spring Wine Fest, contact Carolyn Averill at 608-258-3140 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Carolyn Averill is a development associate at St. Paul University Catholic Foundation.

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