New St. Paul's makes its way skyward on UW campus Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Joan Carey, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Mar. 30, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
  photo of new St. Paul's Catholic Center being built at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  The new St. Paul's Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is being built. It is expected to open its doors in October of 2017, ready to kick off a new era in Catholic campus ministry. (Contributed photo)

MADISON -- Each day, thousands of students wend their way through Library Mall, the lively hub of Madison's University of Wisconsin campus.

They sample international cuisine from the many colorful food carts, hit the stacks at Memorial Library, take in the view of Lake Mendota at the Memorial Union Terrace, and settle in with a bag lunch to enjoy an open-air music performance or watch jugglers practicing their routine.

Smack-dab in the middle of all this bustle, a new St. Paul's Catholic Center is making its way skyward, one steel beam at a time, aiming to open its doors in October, 2017, ready to kick off a new era in the history of Catholic campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A worship space for the ages

The new St. Paul's front façade will draw the eye upward from the quintuplet arched entryway to a vibrant mosaic depicting the Coronation of Mary by her Son Jesus.

St. Paul's eighth annual
Spring Wine Fest

All are invited to experience the joy and vitality of St. Paul's Catholic Center's mission and the excitement of the new church and student center at the Spring Wine Fest. A lively event that brings together the Catholic community, benefactors, and many St. Paul's student leaders, this is a night to celebrate the beginning of a new era for Catholic campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Join St. Paul's on Friday, May 5:
6 p.m. -- Wine and beer tasting
7:15 p.m. -- Dinner
8:30-9:15 p.m. -- Program featuring student testimonies
9:30-11:30 p.m. -- Live 18-piece Big Band and Swing Dance

Cost: $60 per person or package of four tickets for $200
Site: Monona Terrace, 1 John Nolen Dr., Madison
RSVP: By April 28 by visiting
Questions: For questions or more information about sponsorship opportunities, email Carolyn at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Inside the sanctuary of the church, a depiction of Jesus Pantocrator will fill the vaulted dome above the apse. In the reredos behind the tabernacle, a painting of Mary cradling the infant Jesus will recall Christ's humanity.

"An extraordinary level of attention has been given to creating transcendent, beautiful art throughout the new building and especially in the sanctuary. We are diligently working to raise all of the necessary funds and conclude the capital campaign in the coming months," said Senior Director of Advancement Scott Hackl.

A dozen interior mosaics running along both walls of the church will highlight 12 canonized saints, pillars of Catholicism, whose witness will speak to the minds and hearts of young people.

Along the railings above the sanctuary space, four embedded panels will depict key moments in the life of St. Paul on one side, mirrored on the other side by similar moments in the life of Christ.

For decades to come, students will find much to explore in the rich theology depicted in the art and architecture of the new building.

Attracted by beauty

"Beauty," said Hackl, "increases our personal sense of dignity and conveys naturally the hope and unending love the faith holds.

"The college years are a memorable time in a young person's life. Encounters with people and places inspire them for years to come. The rich beauty of the new St. Paul's will similarly hold a special place in their hearts."

Fr. Eric Nielsen, St. Paul's director, points out that of the "three transcendentals" that lift our hearts to God (the Good, the True, and the Beautiful), it is the Beautiful that most attracts people in today's relativistic culture.

"It is our hope," says Father Nielsen, "that by building a Student Center that is beautiful inside and out, young people will turn their attention from the distractions of the world to the eternal.

"Beauty enlarges the soul and gives it greater appreciation for the beauty of our humanity and the other people in our lives, which in turn increases our desire to serve the world with joy."

Superb pipe organ

A superb Taylor & Boody pipe organ will resonate through the church, recalling centuries of Catholicism's musical liturgical traditions.

The organ, the Church teaches, rightly holds the principal instrumental position in the sacred rites and ceremonies of the Church.

It adds a wonderful splendor and special magnificence to the Church's worship, moving souls by its grandeur to the dignity, majesty, and richness of God in a way no other instrument can.

A Great Hall, whose hexagonal tower is already visible above the scaffolding, crowns the new building. Its open-air terrace overlooks a spectacular view up State St. to the Capitol to the east, Bascom Hill to the west, and the Memorial Union and Lake Mendota to the north.

Thanks to benefactors who are eager to see this Catholic campus ministry flourish, all its fixtures and furnishings have been elevated to a higher standard of elegance suited to the many celebrations and events, from weddings to hosting prominent speakers, that will occur in that space.

Student Center welcomes young people home

Father Nielsen points out that the goal of any Catholic campus ministry is to spread the good news of the Gospel. To do that effectively requires hospitality, making people feel welcome and comfortable.

We associate comfort, says Father Nielsen, with our own homes. "Students, for the most part, are away from home for the first time when they come to the University of Wisconsin. That can be disconcerting.

"We want them to feel welcomed not only by the warmth of the people in the building but also by the building itself."

Thus the ground-floor Student Center is designed to make students feel immediately at home.

A large fireplace will be the first thing they see when they walk in the door. Hardwood floors and residential design elements will create friendly spaces that invite natural encounters with people.

Cozy furniture and a residential-style kitchen and dining room will allow the same kinds of invaluable conversations that happen around the family table.

A large living room with built-in bookshelves will house a collection of spiritual books. Clustered tables for board games, reading, and studying will evoke a home-like atmosphere. Students will be able to invite their peers into a community-oriented environment that feels natural and comfortable.

Throughout the Student Center large- and small-group spaces abound, including alcoves for quiet reading, one-on-one spiritual direction, and even a quick nap.

A retractable glass wall on the north side will open directly to Library Mall and the tens of thousands of people who walk by every day.

The smell of hot coffee in the morning, free pizza and root beer floats during Welcome Week, and an evening brat cookout will all be possible in that special space. "Offering food," laughed Hackl, "is often the first step to striking up a meaningful conversation."

In the same way that family traditions are integral to formation, the traditions of faith are deeply-rooted in our identity. "Memories of childhood and home are engrained in who you are as a person," said Hackl.

"We want our young people to experience a familiarity of environment where they can live and express their fullest, deepest sense of self."

When students find at St. Paul's a nexus of faith and community that makes them feel at home, they will move through their college years from a place of greater strength and confidence.

They won't need to look aimlessly to find a new sense of belonging in those crucial young-adult years. When they come to St. Paul's, they'll find they're already home.

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