This is an architect’s rendering of the proposed new chapel and student center at St. Paul University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Contributed graphic)
MADISON -- In May 2012, the St. Paul University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison was granted approval by the City of Madison to build a new chapel and student center at 723 State St.
“After four years of conversations with the City of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, our neighbors, and many key benefactors and supporters of St. Paul’s, we are very happy to have a building design that we know both meets city approval and most of our needs,” said Fr. Eric Nielsen, director of the center.
Ministry dates back to 1883
The ministry at St. Paul’s began in 1883, when John and Frances Melvin, a Catholic family living on University Ave., opened their home to UW-Madison students to discuss their Catholic faith. At the time it was the first and only Catholic campus ministry at a public university in the United States and would eventually become the inspiration for the Newman Movement.
As the ministry grew, a parcel of land was purchased on State St. and in 1909 the present chapel was erected with Fr. Henry Hengell installed as its chaplain. Father Hengell later purchased the house next door to the church to serve as a rectory and club house for the students to meet.
Father Hengell has long since departed, but the chapel and the same rectory club house still serve the students today.
In the 1950s, a front porch was added to the house which is the only major addition ever given to the student center. The chapel went through an extensive renovation and expansion in 1968. It has now been 54 years, however, without
any additional renovations to the chapel or the student center.
Need for new center
Since then, the Madison campus has changed and grown tremendously, prompting the need for a new center that can keep pace with the rest of the university.
“It is a mission field that needs to be attended to and it’s in our own back yard. These young people are a strong part of the future of our Church in this diocese and across the country,” say UW alumni and St. Paul’s supporters Greg and Ann Wagner of Middleton.
The new chapel and student center will provide a beautiful Catholic presence at the heart of the campus and will witness to the importance of integrating our Catholic faith, ideas, and values into the academic setting at UW-Madison.
Strong Catholic presence
Says Father Nielsen, “The vast majority of Catholic students attend public universities, and UW-Madison is the most influential university in our state. As such, it is essential that we have a strong Catholic presence here.”
Jared Holzhuter, a seminarian for the Diocese of Madison and UW-Madison alumnus, shares, “I wouldn’t be in seminary if it wasn’t for St. Paul’s. Even though I had a good Catholic upbringing, coming to college was very challenging and I was on a path of drifting completely away from the faith after my first three years at UW-Madison.
“I realized the difficulty of maintaining my faith alone, so my senior year I became more involved with the student community at St. Paul’s, started receiving the sacraments regularly, and took part in many of the programs offered at St. Paul’s. If I hadn’t come to St. Paul’s my senior year, I probably would’ve lost my faith.”
In addition to a new chapel, the proposal will also allow for significant expansion and quality of student center space to include large group spaces, meeting rooms, spiritual direction and mentorship rooms, a crypt chapel for private prayer, a kitchen and dining hall, a vocation discernment residential floor, and a multi-purpose room with an expansive view of Madison and the University.
Share in the project, participate in online survey
A campaign assessment study has just begun to assess many aspects of this transformative project for the ministry of St. Paul’s. It is critical for St. Paul’s to have as many Catholics in the Diocese of Madison share their thoughts, suggestions, and support at this important time in the beginning stages of the campaign.
“If St. Paul’s is to remain relevant to incoming freshmen we will need a building that they find inviting and inspirational. The time is now to build such a student center and chapel. If anyone is interested in this very exciting ministry, I ask them to visit our Web site to share their thoughts and support by participating in our online survey,” says Father Nielsen.
All individuals who wish to share their thoughts and support are encouraged to participate in an online survey that is located on the homepage of St. Paul’s Web site at www.uwcatholic.org The online survey will last for two weeks, ending on Friday, Aug. 31.
More information can be requested by contacting St. Paul’s Senior Director of Advancement, Scott Hackl, by e-mail at
or by phone at 608-395-1245.