CONWAY — College students in Conway have wanted a Catholic campus ministry building for years, Luke Hoelzeman said.
“I can remember when I was a student from 2012 to 2016, there was a student who had hand drawn a dream facility,” the assistant Catholic campus minister said as he stood near the altar of the new CCM building. “And this is bigger than that little hand-drawn sketch. This is more extravagant than any of us could have dreamed.”
Those dreams became reality Sept. 6 as the new CCM building on the University of Central Arkansas campus at 1919 South Blvd. saw its first of many Masses. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor celebrated the Mass, assisted by CCM director Deacon Richard Papini.
The 160-seat chapel was filled with seminarians, priests, campaign board members, donors and students.
For Papini, CCM director in Conway for 25 years, the idea of a new facility has been discussed since he answered God’s call to help Catholic youth in 1998 after leaving his job at Arkansas Power & Light (now called Entergy) in Russellville.
“We talked about (a new building) on and off, and I had a little drawing showing a layout of floor space and rooms, and I hung it on my office door for several years,” Papini said.
The old CCM building at 2204 Bruce Street was soon running out of room to accommodate Catholic students attending the UCA, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College.
Liz Tingquist, diocesan director of campus ministry, served on the fundraising campaign for a new CCM building.
“The (old) building size was inadequate,” Tingquist said. “There are pictures of students in the house for Mass and the doors and windows are propped open with people standing all the way around the room up against the walls.”
When UCA started expanding and bought religious organizations’ houses next door to the old CCM building, Papini knew the clock was ticking.
“We always knew the university would at some point, because we were right dead center in the campus,” he said.
When the old CCM house was bought by the university in 2019, Papini and former campus minister Kasey Miller began to assemble a steering committee for the capital campaign called Sacred Space, Sacred Time. John Nabholz, longtime chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Arkansas Science and Technology Authority board, was named chairman of the steering committee for the capital campaign.
“He’s been involved with our ministry ever since I got here,” Papini said.
In addition to volunteering at events, Nabholz knew many movers and shakers who could help with the capital campaign. Miller reached out to the network of alumni and Papini traveled the state to ask for donations.
But the campaign didn’t come without challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the campaign goal to inflate several times, from $2.5 million at first, to $3 million a year and a half later, to $3.9 million four months after that.
“Building costs and delays ate up a lot of manpower time, and building materials became more expensive,” Papini said.
Ariz Martinez, a UCA senior from Texarkana, Texas, majoring in health promotion, said she has been involved in CCM since she was a sophomore and class returned in-person following the COVID pandemic.
“I attend small groups, and I help out at events when I’m able.” Martinez said. “I want to get more involved and get to know more people at CCM in my last year.
When Martinez heard a CCM building was going to be constructed, she didn’t think she would get to use it as a student. But that didn’t deter her from helping with capital campaign efforts.
“I thought with the planning and all, that it would take more time and would be done after I graduate,” Martinez said. “(We would call people) and see if anyone would like to donate.”
Cameron Heslip, a senior from Maumelle, majoring in pre-med biology, has been on campus long enough to remember the old CCM house at 2204 Bruce Street.
“I remember starting over in the little house right across the street, and they’ve been talking about this since day one, and it’s been so cool,” Heslip said. “We had so many fundraisers of us students going to call supporters and patrons and talking to them on the phone and hearing their stories of why they were so passionate about this building. We got to throw so many different events to support it and getting to come over here and see it as it was in the process of getting built and furnished. It’s been awesome. I was holding on. I was like ‘I have to be here when this building is finished.’”
In 2022, Conway’s CCM met its fundraising goal and held a groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 24. In July, Nabholz Construction completed the facility, which has office spaces, study rooms, a kitchen, an open dining hall connected to a large chapel and an open lobby with snack and coffee bars.
The efforts of Nabholz, chairperson of the capital campaign, were celebrated at the end of Mass as Bishop Taylor presented him with a framed letter thanking him for his hard work and dedication.
“(I feel) humbled,” Nabholz said. “Humbled by the work and generosity of so many others.” Nabholz said the support and determination of Catholics throughout Conway made the building’s construction and completion possible. “That is the true story of success for us.”
New CCM campus minister Tachia Awbrey, who previously worked as an academic advisor at UCA, said the new CCM building will help build a community among students and provide a piece of the holistic college experience.
“So much of a student’s success depends on their connectivity outside of the classroom,” Awbrey said. “And a lot of people don’t understand how much faith plays a role in that, but studies are starting to show that a big predictor of student success is if they have a spiritual connection or faith-based connection outside of campus.”
Papini believes the new CCM building will facilitate just that — a healthy school, work and faith life balance for college students in Conway and the surrounding area.
“This is the beginning of the (fall semester) so I know there are a lot of new students … who may not have a clue that we’re even here,” he said. “But the word is going to get out, and they’re going to come in and take part of the blessing that is this building.”
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