Brand new St. Paul University Catholic Center dazzles UW’s Library Mall Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Joan Carey, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
st paul university catholic center
The most striking exterior feature of the new St. Paul University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin’s Library Mall in Madison is a brilliantly-colored mosaic of the Coronation of Mary, based on artwork found in the apse of St. Mary Major in Rome. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON — At the heart of the great University of Wisconsin (UW) campus in Madison, an extraordinary new home of encounter with the Risen Christ is ready to welcome students back.

With great joy and thanksgiving, St. Paul University Catholic Center announces that just a few finishing touches remain on the new Church and Student Center as the community prepares to swing its doors wide open to a great new future.

The University of Wisconsin, one of the great campuses in the nation, has long needed an equally great Catholic presence.

“In designing this building,” said Scott Hackl, director of advancement at St. Paul’s, “we did everything we could to give UW students the best, because they are here to give their best. A building of this caliber, built for them, will impact their lives for years to come.

“They will have a warm and friendly place to grow in faith with others, entrusting their hopes, dreams, challenges, and failures to God and the friendships they form here.”

Excellence in every detail

The new building’s art and architecture passes the Church’s rich heritage of beauty on to future generations. The interior and exterior were designed to the highest standard of excellence to honor God.

“Every student will walk through the doors and experience the elevated quality of materials, the warmth of décor, the versatility of space,” said Hackl. “It all works together to embody an atmosphere of home and friendship to promote the joy of a family, that is the Catholic Church.”

Visitors will find surprises around every corner. A magnificent antique fireplace mantle meets the eye upon entering the building. Rock pieces from the Roman tomb of St. Paul are embedded in the four corners of the new foundation and will be on display in the church.

Tour new St. Paul's on Sunday, Nov. 26
You are invited to come for Mass and to tour the new St. Paul’s Chapel and Student Center at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center.
Sunday, Nov. 26:
• What — Open house
• Time — Masses at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.
• Tours — Self-led tours before and after all Masses
Place: 723 State St., Madison
Information: Check for details

The marble flooring in the St. Joseph alcove originates from Madison’s St. Raphael Cathedral. The magnificent organ, the colorful mosaics pointing to Christian truth, the medallions of the saints, the nave railings whose panels tell the story of Christ on one side and of St. Paul on the other, the traditional arches, the tile flooring . . . all of these elements echo the rich artistic legacy of Catholicism, whose purpose is to raise our hearts to God.

Hackl noted that the tradesmen who have devoted their labor to building the new St. Paul’s over the last 18 months have often expressed their sincere appreciation of the high caliber of workmanship. “Every time I drop by,they say how honored they are to be working on this project,” he said. “They have great respect and admiration for the quality of the construction.”

Brightening the UW campus

Every campus Catholic center exists to draw young souls to Christ. St. Paul’s is perfectly positioned on Library Mall, the center of the university, adjacent to the renowned “sifting and winnowing” fountain and the open-air platform used so often by musicians, speakers, and performers. It is an ideal location for inviting students to be part of a community in Christ.

The St. Paul’s building site is surrounded by a number of monotone gray concrete buildings. The old St. Paul’s was also constructed of concrete in the Brutalist architectural style. “When I first came here, it was a culture shock,” said Erin, a senior from the Twin Cities. “I grew up in an area with beautiful, traditional churches and bright stained-glass windows. St. Paul’s felt so dark.”

Though Erin grew to love the old St. Paul’s (“it had its moments, especially when lit for the Candlelight Masses,” she said), she is thrilled that there will be no more gray. “People will be drawn in by the beauty and warmth of the new building. It will be so awesome.”

Exquisite Coronation Mosaic

The students have thrilled to watch the demolition of the old building and a new one rising to take its place. The inviting brick arches of the front façade draw the eye skyward to the most striking exterior feature: a gorgeous, brilliantly-colored mosaic of the Coronation of Mary, based on artwork in the apse of St. Mary Major in Rome.

Michael, a St. Paul’s student intern who graduated from UW last year, noted, “It has been particularly exciting to watch the mosaic of the angels with Jesus and Mary go up over Library Mall. The colors leap out so brightly from the grey surroundings; it enlivens that whole area.”

Fr. Mark Miller, parochial vicar at St. Paul’s, commented, “The world and our preoccupations can have a gravitational pull on our attention. It’s easy to forget that there’s something more. St. Paul though, says, ‘Set your minds on things above.’ This is one of the reasons that, of all the aspects of the new church, I’m probably most thrilled with the exterior mosaic.”

This mosaic depicts Mary crowned by Jesus while seated upon the same throne in heaven. Jesus holds a book open to Revelation 3:21 which reads, “The one who conquers, I will grant to sit with me on my throne.”

“The best spiritual director I ever had told me that we never think about heaven enough,” said Father Miller. “Every student on Library Mall, everyone leaving Memorial Library or Memorial Union, everyone returning to campus from State Street will be confronted with a powerful image of heaven, the kind that draws your eyes and lifts up your mind and heart.”

A cloud of witnesses

The students of St. Paul’s participated in all stages of the new church’s design. Their clarion call for beauty and tradition has been attentively heeded, and the entire design of the church and Student Center focuses on them.

“Every detail, from the art to the architecture, responds to the needs young adults have to form a trusted community of friends and of faith in God. The building itself extends a sincere invitation to the wonderful young people who come to the UW: here you will find a place to call home,” said Hackl.

The students of St. Paul’s played an especially significant part in selecting which saints to display in the 12 rondelles adorning the perimeter of the nave. “The young people on the University of Wisconsin campus, like all young people,” said Hackl, “are looking for ideals to aspire to, and they selected these saints as models of inspiration for living a life of faith, courage, and virtue.”

St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews that “we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), and the rondelles will be a constant reminder of this truth. Catholic churches display images of the saints to show their struggles and stir our hearts to emulate their virtues. The young people of St. Paul’s selected a variety of holy men and women who embody very different paths of following Christ but who all stayed true to the faith to the end.

They chose Sts. Catherine of Siena and Thomas Aquinas, great intellects and scholars whose thought shaped the history of the church; Sts. Joan of Arc and Thomas More, martyrs who exhibited immense courage; Sts. Gianna Molla and Maximillian Kolbe, who both made a sacrifice of their life so that another could live; Sts. Augustine and Mary Magdalene, two penitents who reflect the power of God’s Mercy; Sts. Kateri Tekakwitha and Martin de Porres, who devoted their lives in the Americas to bringing the Gospel to American Indians and African American slaves; and Sts. Josemaria Escriva and Thérèse of Lisieux, who explained how we can be sanctified in our ordinary work and even the smallest efforts made with love.

“The rondelles are striking fixtures in the walls of the new church,” said Hackl. “They will move the hearts of thousands of young adults who come through these doors looking for inspiration and direction.”

Tremendous anticipation

As the move back to St. Paul’s draws near, a sense of eager expectancy is growing. The students long to be together again in a central location. Though the community has remained intact and even grown, being scattered across campus has been challenging.

“I am excited about being back in the heart of campus action again,” said Michael. “Some of our Masses through the building phase weren’t even on campus. Being back on Library Mall will really help us reach out to people and draw people in. I’m also really excited about the sliding doors on the first floor of the Student Center — when we open those up, we will find ourselves right on Library Mall.”

Erin agreed. “It will make such a difference to be back in a place we can call home. We’ll be able to create an incredibly welcoming atmosphere for new people.” Erin leads a Bible study on campus, and she also takes part in “one-on-one discipleship,” which involves meeting people individually to help them grow in the faith. She’s particularly looking forward to having many spaces in the new building where large and small groups can gather and people can meet individually.

“The old building was so cramped that it was hard to find a quiet space to meet and pray with others and talk intimately about what was going on. What a difference the new St. Paul’s is going to make in the lives of people on campus.”

Everyone at St. Paul’s is excited about showing off the new building to the public, so plan on stopping by on Thanksgiving Sunday!

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