Catholic Center opens at UMHB in Belton
By Enedelia J. Obregón
The Crusader Catholic Center at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton is a nomad no longer. Actually, there was no center per se until mid-fall when a historic home across the street from the university opened its doors after months of renovations.
For the last three years, Catholic students met in classrooms, common areas in dorms, or wherever they could find space on the Belton campus, said Father James Misko, pastor of Christ the King Parish, who oversees the Catholic center.
“Nothing ever felt like home,” Father Misko said. “It was important the students have a place where they could put up their feet and call their own.”
The university, which has almost 3,000 students, has between 400 and 500 Catholic students, Father Misko said. It was important to find a place for them to have Mass, socialize and be with fellow Catholics.
Junior Michelle Lopez, president of the student group, said previously “it was always a surprise” where the meeting place was to be.
“It could change at the last minute,” she said. “We’d be in places like the Sub –– the cafeteria in the student union –– and it’s loud, like a hangout.”
Mass is now possible at the center “because it’s quiet and permanent.” Mass is celebrated on Wednesday evenings and the sacrament of reconciliation is also available. On Sundays, students can attend Mass at Christ the King Parish.
Freshman Matt Acker said he feels comfortable at the center, where he can “hang out without anyone trying to convert me, grill me about my faith or ignore me.”
Lopez said she came to the university thinking that being Catholic in a predominantly Baptist campus would not “be a big deal.” However, she learned differently.
“I learned to defend my faith. I am proud to embrace what a true Catholic is,” she said.
The students, who refer to themselves as “Cru Catholics,” were quick to lay claim to the house. While it was still under renovation, they prayed the rosary, praying that the termite-eaten floors wouldn’t give way.
They did so because “that consistency was important,” Acker said. “This is where we meet and people needed to know that.”
About 20 students on average show up daily at the center. A recent Mass attracted about 15 students and a karaoke night brought in 25 students. The covered deck with period columns, which once was two rooms added on to the original house, is a good place to hang out. It has an open fireplace for cool weather and tables, chairs and lighted ceiling fans.
The kitchen has a refrigerator, sink and a microwave and a table for the coffee maker. A marble slab awaits installation as a counter. The living area –– where Mass is celebrated –– was converted from a couple of rooms and has sofas, bean-bag chairs and a large-screen television set.
One side of the house is also the residence of Krystal Gates, who serves as the campus minister at UMHB and is the youth minister at Christ the King Parish. Gates also serves as liaison to CRU Catholics, a campus Catholic group.
Father Misko said the parish had been looking for a campus student center when a parishioner told him that the house at 905 Main Street –– right across from campus –– was for sale by foreclosure. The parish used rebates from the Our Faith, Our Legacy Campaign as well as savings to put in a blind bid. They won the bid, which was just the beginning.
Father Misko sought help from parishioner Bruce Matous, who is in the construction business, to head the renovations. Because the house is in a historic district, they worked closely with the Historic Preservation Committee to retain the integrity of the house. Together with Rene Rodriguez of Temple, who did the design and construction at cost, the center was on its way to becoming a reality.
Christ the King parishioners then set up a Wish Tree for items that would be needed at the center, such as light fixtures, microwaves and furniture.
Much of the structure had to be demolished because it was in bad shape, Matous said.
“We stripped it down to its bones,” he said. “We wanted to make sure it was safe.”
They pulled down sheet rock and wallpaper to find hard, horizontal pinewood on the walls and floors. Many of the windows are original, but the the plumbing and electrical wiring are brand new. Central heating and air were added as was insulation.
Renee Matous did the decorating and interior design.
Volunteers also donated and installed sod in the front yard and the limestone pillar for the sign, which was has not arrived yet.
Acker said the location of the center is “very convenient” and is quiet considering it’s at 905 Main Street. A street light at the corner allows students to cross the main thoroughfare safely.
Lopez said she likes having people she can depend on to share her good days and bad ones.
“I know I can turn to anyone here and be myself,” she said. “People can come here and be themselves –– good Catholics and be proud to be Catholic.”
After a recent Mass, Matous told the students the best way to thank all those who helped make the student center a reality is to “grow it.”
“We planted the seeds,” he said. “It’s up to you to make it grow.”
For information about the Catholic center, visit www.crucatholics.org.