- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Catholic student center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison will celebrate its final Mass on Sunday before its demolition.

The Rev. Eric Nielsen, the center’s director, told the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1NXv0cw ) he envisions the Mass as a loving farewell to an old friend.

“This building has served so many people so well for so many years,” Nielsen said. “We want it to go out in glory.”

The demolition of St. Paul’s University Catholic Center is due to start in early February, with a replacement facility twice its size scheduled to be ready by the fall of 2017. About 1,000 students attend Mass at the center during a typical weekend, Nielsen said.

The $25 million project will be a five-story building that will include a chapel, dining facilities, meeting rooms, a rooftop terrace and a hall accommodating 200 people. There will also be some apartments for priests, seminary students and visiting scholars. It’s been scaled back from the 14-story, $45 million facility that the Diocese of Madison originally envisioned.

The center still needs to raise about $3.5 million. Donors have included many Catholic parents and alumni, and a sizable number of non-Catholics, too, said Scott Hackl, the center’s senior director of advancement.

“They are people who have a great love for the university and want to strengthen it for students,” Hackl said.

The original 1909 chapel on the site was gutted and transformed in 1968 by architects Kenton Peters and Gustavs Martinsons, who used reinforced concrete inside and out to give the building a modernistic overhaul. The concrete facade that faces State Street Mall has had strong defenders and detractors over the years.

“St. Paul’s does challenge the beholder to see its beauty,” the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation acknowledged in a 2011 analysis. But the organization found much to applaud, saying the architects “did elegant things with an inelegant material.”

Nielsen, who has been the center’s director for nine years, is sad to see the building go. As a UW-Madison student from 1980-84, he attended Mass at the chapel. But he said its replacement will better serve the needs of a 21st-century campus ministry.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj


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