By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published September 3, 2020
CARROLLTON—A week of events, including outdoor Mass, trivia, food and fellowship welcomed students to the fall semester and the new Catholic Center at the University of West Georgia (UWG).
When students left campus in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shifted to online learning, there was no designated space for the ministry. In August, students returned to school and a fully furnished Catholic center for gatherings, social events and a safe place to grow their faith.
The two-bedroom house sits on Maple Street, just a quick walk from the university campus. It is close to the Kennedy Chapel, where the ministry previously gathered for Mass and eucharistic adoration. The center has a chapel, plenty of outdoor space, a large gathering room and space for an office.
For Father Gaurav Shroff, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton and chaplain of the Catholic center, campus ministry was an important part of his discernment to the priesthood.
Father Shroff said he personally benefited from campus ministry and wanted to give back to others what he had received.
“Evangelizing young adults and young people has always been close to my heart,” he said.
The pastor looks forward to hosting a men’s Bible study, inviting guest speakers and to be available twice per week at the center to support students.
My hope is that “every student has an opportunity to really come to know and fall in love with Jesus Christ and his church,” said Father Shroff.
A whirlwind summer of finding, securing and furnishing the house has left Norma Rothschadl, the campus minister, feeling very blessed. A year ago, there was nothing here or an established ministry, said Rothschadl. “It’s unbelievable.”
Along with students and the community, Rothschadl celebrated a successful fundraising gala in February to help fund a new ministry center. Prior to the Maple Street house, gatherings would take place at local pubs and restaurants, the Kennedy Chapel or Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton, the home parish for the ministry that is miles away from campus.
When the coronavirus hit in March, the campus closed and concerns were raised about fundraising for the new center. Later, Rothschadl was contacted by a ministry advisory board member about a house available to rent across the street from the Kennedy Chapel. It was not a big house but had space for larger gatherings and a dining room that could sit 30 students.
We felt strongly that when God closed one door, he opened another one for us, said Rothschadl. And with the blessing of Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., the ministry rented the house and received the keys in early July.
A sense of community
A new website, along with Facebook and Instagram accounts helped to create community for the ministry and were tools used to request donations to furnish the house and pay for rent and utilities. Within four weeks, the house was completely furnished.
A nonprofit registry was set up online for people to purchase needed items. From bookshelves to kitchen supplies to a washer and dryer, donations came from parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, alumni and staff of UWG and members of the community.
St. George Church in Newnan donated chairs for the chapel. Meiling and Bill Familo from St. Matthew Church in Tyrone met a friend halfway to Kentucky to pick up a tabernacle for the center. Walter and Emily DiPietro donated a piano to the house. A Laudato Si’ ministry was started to help plant flowers and maintain the lawn of the house.
After a conversation with Rothschadl about St. John Henry Newman and his importance to campus ministry, an Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church parishioner donated a stitchwork needlepoint of his prayer to the center that previously hung on the wall in her mother’s house.
The stories are numerous, said Rothschadl. The center is “filled with love and these amazing stories of people who are, you know, passing down their faith but also passing down these treasures, things that have been so important to their families.”
The campus ministry opened its doors to students on Aug. 10 for “Welcome Week,” which included Mass, adoration, an outdoor barbecue, games and food. The ministry will welcome Archbishop Hartmayer to the house on Oct. 3 for a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony.
In a few years, Rothschadl hopes to raise money to break ground on a permanent Catholic center for the campus ministry. In the meantime, she is enjoying the community and school support for the students.
“I think people are just so excited to see something opening, something with hope,” said Rothschadl.
For students, I hope this center becomes a home away from home, said Father Shroff. It’s a space for students to discover what God is calling them to do and is a place of love, he said.