The leader of the 180,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Colorado Springs realizes young adults aren’t necessarily sticking around after they finish high school.
“It’s a common fact that by college, many drift away from the practice of the faith,” said Bishop Michael Sheridan, whose flock spans all of El Paso County, east to the Kansas border, north to Castle Rock and west to Salida, Buena Vista and Leadville.
Nearly 80% of American Catholics are no longer Catholic by age 23, according to Taylor Marshall, a best-selling Catholic author and podcast host from Texas.
Helping teens and budding adults not stray has become Sheridan’s No. 1 priority in his final leg as bishop. He’s facing mandatory retirement under Canon Law when he reaches age 75 in March.
Sheridan said that for five years, he has dreamed of creating a place local Catholic college students can “call their own.” The goal now is on its way to becoming the culminating project of his 16-year tenure in Colorado Springs.
The Catholic Student Center, which will be built at 4785 Stanton Road, west of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ parking garage that has an athletic field on top, will be a headquarters for the diocese’s campus ministry program.
The center will serve students attending UCCS, as well as Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College students, along with their families, campus employees and alumni.
“We have to have a place they can gather as a community, and hopefully that will help them stay with the faith,” Sheridan said. “I count it as something that’s essential.”
Construction on the 8,500-square-foot building is scheduled to start in the fall, with an anticipated opening date of August 2020.
With an “increasing secular society,” Catholic college students at times face a hostile environment in classrooms, said the Rev. Kyle Ingels, a priest who directs the Colorado Springs’ campus ministry program and also is associate director of vocations for the diocese.
Struggles with religious freedom and moral challenges can result in students being bullied or ridiculed, he said, mentioning instances of “students bringing up a moral issue in class and being mocked for taking a position that’s not popular.”
“This is probably one of the most important things we can do as a diocese because this is our future,” Ingels said. “We need to provide them a place where they can feel comfortable and engaged.”
Appeals from the pulpit for parishioners to donate to the fundraising campaign to construct the collegiate center will occur Sunday and in coming weeks. The presentation includes a seven-minute video that tells the story of the center’s development.
About $2 million of the $7.5 million goal has been raised, said Jamie Crane, the diocese’s director of development and planned giving.
The diocese purchased the 3.5-acre property from a private seller last year for $650,000, according to assessor’s records.
The parcel is not on university property, said UCCS spokesman Chris Valentine, but it does share a geographic border.
“Part of our mission is to create a diverse organization for students to learn and grow, and this center provides another opportunity to serve the needs of our students,” Valentine said. “We welcome community partners to be close to us and want to help them reach their goals and provide services.”
UCCS has 11 officially sanctioned religious clubs, including the existing Mountain Lion Catholic group, which under Ingels’ leadership meets at his house near UCCS and other locations.
The spiritual, intellectual and social center will have a 300-seat chapel for worship, prayer, Bible studies, sacred music concerts, retreats and other activities. Seating for meals, studying and speaker presentations, along with offices and meeting space, also will be incorporated.
Ingels, who will be the center’s full-time pastor, envisions it as a place for people to have their spiritual needs met as well as relax, where students and staff can drop by between classes to pray, study, eat lunch or mingle.
UCCS nursing student Grace Benskin, who’s from Denver and will be a sophomore in the fall, said she’s excited about the future center.
“I think it will bring a really good sense of culture to our group and give us an identity,” she said. “It will be somewhere we can go to share our faith and be with peers with like-minded views and values.”
A dedicated center will enable the campus ministry program, which has about 150 students involved in the Mountain Lion Catholic group, to expand, Ingels said. The diocese estimates there are 6,000 college-age Catholics in the area who could utilize the new student center.
Sheridan said some parishioners in the local diocese told him that they had experienced a similar center at other college campuses, and it “made a great difference” in their lives, saying that “their faith was saved.”
For more information, go to www.BuildingfortheFuture.org.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656