The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 23, 2014

Under one roof: With growing attendance, MSU's Newman Center is planning new facility

With growing attendance, MSU's Newman Center is planning new facility

When the Rev. Tim Biren was just a kid, the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center was making the big move from its previous location at the current Blue Earth County Historical Society site up the hill.

As a campus ministry, the center had no choice but to move with the rest of the campus. So in 1978, the Diocese of Winona with chaplain Gerald Conway bought a small two-story house at 1331 Warren St. adjacent to campus. They also purchased an acre of land nearby, just north of where the Alumni Foundation Center is now located, to eventually build upon.

For the past 45 years or so, the house on Warren was used for office space and meetings, as well as small chapel services and gatherings. But all weekend liturgies were held in the Student Union, said Biren, the director and chaplain.

“So nothing was really done (with the land) since that time,” Biren said. “When talking with previous chaplains and staff, the reason it took so long is, as they say, ministry happens.”

Biren came to the center in 2001, and about 12 years ago they started looking at the possibility of building a new Newman Center on that acre of land. The staff had put a great deal of emphasis on student outreach during the past few years, increasing average weekly attendance from 30 in 2001 to more than 300 today. Membership has reached 900 students, and the staff has grown from two full-time to 10.

The growth has shined a light on the space issues of the current house, built in the 1960s. The largest room in the 1,100-square-foot house is 12 feet by 10 feet. When two people walk down the hall, one has to turn sideways, Biren said. And the house also lacks handicap accessibility.

“Our Sunday worship has been held in the Student Union, and it would be nice to have everything under one roof,” Biren said.

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