UNT/TWU Catholic Campus Ministry to become diocese’s first university parish, Bl. John Paul II

By Tony Gutiérrez

Associate Editor

Photos Courtesy of Luisa Martini

Catholic Campus Ministry students climb to the top of a hill displaying a prayer cross at Glen Lake Retreat Center in Glen Rose during the ministry’s Fall 2010 “Rooted” Retreat.

In a small building right off the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton, a group of about 50 students gather in the downstairs common area for a daily Mass as the end of the semester nears. The building is the Catholic Campus Center, affectionately known as the “C” to the students, and as of July 1, will be home to the newly established Blessed John Paul II Parish to serve the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of UNT and Texas Woman’s University, and their families.

The “C” housed the Catholic Campus Ministry for both universities for many years, but with the growth of the ministry and the new parish being established, it is no longer sufficient, says founding pastor Father Kyle Walterscheid.

“There has been an increased volume of students on their traditional Thursday evening Mass, and the confessional line now averages more than two hours, more than doubling since I started coming here four years ago,” said Fr. Kyle, who is ending his tenure as Vocations director, and has been celebrating the C’s weekday Mass as part of his role.

Currently, the C’s chapel is upstairs and can only hold 30, which is why daily Mass is now held in the common area and Sunday Mass is celebrated on campus in the university’s student union.

Father Kyle Walterscheid, founding pastor of the new parish and outgoing diocesan Vocations director, celebrates Mass in the backyard of the C. As Vocations director, Fr. Kyle would visit all the campus ministries in the diocese.

Fr. Kyle hopes to add about 500 square feet to the building to serve as a chapel that can seat 60, but can open into other parts of the building to accommodate overflow attendance, and would also be handicap accessible, a project that would cost approximately $50,000. This would be a temporary solution, Fr. Kyle adds, until a new facility can be built, hopefully three years in the future, either at the C’s current location or at a different site. Renovations for the building, and potential land to be purchased will be partly funded by the diocese’s All Things Possible campaign launched in 2009, but Fr. Kyle also said he hopes to rely on the generosity of alumni and other members of the community.

However, establishing a new parish involves more than just building up the physical facility. It also involves building up the community spiritually. With a full-time priest, students will have a greater availability to the sacraments, including daily Mass, says Luisa Martini, director of campus ministry.

“Sacraments are so much more available to students or faculty and staff, especially since so many students don’t have cars, and their entire lives revolve around what’s walking distance from campus,” she said. “Having a pastor will be so helpful in helping to guide the pastoral efforts in a unique way a layperson cannot.”

Fr. Kyle’s presence will also bring a role model for male students of the ministry as well.

“There’s been a demand for sacraments and a priest, and a male mentor here on campus,” said Martin Aucoin, a UNT sophomore student intern with the ministry. “Some guys have expressed concern that there’s no male leader to look up to, so I think Fr. Kyle will do well in that role.”

Members of the Catholic Campus Ministry program participate in the Dallas March for Life on Jan. 21 of this year.

Also to help build the community, the campus ministry is transitioning from a staff of one full-timer — Martini — to a parish with a staff of seven, including Fr. Kyle, Martini, a business manager still to be hired, and four missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), an apostolate dedicated to serving college students by sending young adults to evangelize on college campuses.

“One of the great benefits of having FOCUS missionaries is one of their charisms is to engage and evangelize the campus and ... that’s not something I’m able to do,” said Martini, “but also to make disciples [of the students] and build them up in their faith.”

The increase in resources will also help better serve the Catholic population at Texas Woman’s University on the other side of Denton. Because of limited resources and the C’s proximity to UNT, TWU students often had to travel to participate in the community. As pastor, Fr. Kyle plans to celebrate a weekday Mass at least once a week at TWU, and to serve the pastoral needs of the students throughout the week, including regular on-site Bible studies.

Melanie Burr, a TWU senior and outgoing president for the school’s Catholic student organization, is excited about the opportunity for evangelization the parish will bring. “Right now, we only have about 40 people attending Mass every week — that can’t be the only Catholics on campus,” she said.

The name of the new parish, Blessed John Paul II, also serves to inspire the students in building up the new community, as the late pontiff is often regarded as a patron of youth and young adults.

A prayer grotto, featuring a replica of Michelangelo’s "Pietá" is located in the Cs backyard. The grotto is dedicated to the memory of Fr. Bob Lewandowski, SM, the campus chaplain who served the ministry until his death in 2003. (Photo by Jacqueline Burkepile / NTC)

“I think the greatest gift that patronage will bring is that spirit of faith and reaching out to [our peers],” said Austin Bray, a UNT junior and Theology of the Body coordinator for the campus ministry. “I think that bodes very well in setting a cornerstone for the mission of the new parish.”

Another major part of building up the parish community is also serving faculty, staff, and alumni of the universities, as well as their families.

Chalese Connors, faculty adviser for TWU’s Catholic student organization, said she hopes faculty and staff join the parish because “as the students participate in the parish [and] see the professors and staff members [from]campus,” it builds a sense of community “that extends beyond the classroom.”

Fr. Kyle said he plans to build a community of alumni to support each other and the students. He also plans to celebrate Mass occasionally specifically for faculty and staff.

“The alumni are vital to the long-term building up of the new parish. They need mutual support as they struggle to land that first job, as well as the continued bond of faith among their peers. At the same time they will be able to encourage, bring wisdom, and pray for the students,” said Fr. Kyle of the importance of the community. “Our Catholic faculty at the two universities will benefit the students by more directly sharing their faith in the community, and the students will inspire the faculty by sharing their love for Christ in active ministry.”

For more information about Blessed John Paul II Parish or to learn how to donate to the renovation project visit its website at www.jp2denton.org/.

In a small building right off the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton, a group of about 50 students gather in the downstairs common area for a daily Mass as the end of the semester nears. The building is the Catholic Campus Center, affectionately known as the “C” to the students, and as of July 1, will be home to the newly established Blessed John Paul II Parish to serve the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of UNT and Texas Woman’s University, and their families.

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