Atheists take issue with opt-in faith-based college dorms

Though the ministry programs typically are run by the Catholic church, students with other religious affiliations are free to participate in the events, and one of the goals is to spur interfaith dialogue. The resident population is overwhelmingly Christian, but also includes Jews, Muslims and others at some schools.

The residence halls, which cost students about what secular dorms do, provide sorely needed housing, supporters say. Because they are privately funded, including their operating costs, universities don’t have to foot the bill.

“This was actually a financial joy for us,” said Anthony Catanese, president of Florida Tech, a private university where the 148-bed Mary Star of the Sea residence hall was recently inaugurated.

But the facilities have provoked some controversy. Last month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation—a group in Madison, Wis., that seeks to maintain state-church separation—wrote a letter to Troy outlining why it considered the Newman Center illegal on a public-university campus.

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Editor’s note: The Catholic Newman Centers typically do great work on college campuses across the country – and these faith based dorms are just a logical next step. The atheists can live wherever they want. Nobody is forcing them to do anything. But at the same time, without a viable faith-based housing option, many young people living in conventional college dorms are  forced to live in virtual “dens of iniquity” – with rampant cohabitation and promiscuous sex – including open homosexuality, drugs, virtually non-stop rock and roll – and all types of neo-pagan Bacchanalia. Turning a blind eye toward  these types of issues would be a sin!

Having seen the movie,” Animal House” and not totally ignorant of the ways of the world – when it was time for my eldest son to go off to college, my wife and I had a short but serious talk with him. Then we fervently prayed together, asking  God to “keep him close”. Back home, our family never missed Sunday Mass, so we printed out a small file providing Mass times and walking/driving directions to several Catholic Churches located in and around his new, college digs.

Visiting about a month later, taking in the view from his lofty 14th floor dorm, I casually asked my son to point out for me where he usually attended Mass. “Right there, dad,” he replied. I scanned the horizon from right to left, out and back – two or three times – but try as I might, I was unable to identify anything resembling a church.  “Where?”, I said. “There, dad!”. Still nothing! “One more time, please. Where is the church?”

It was only then that I realized how literally God had chosen to answer our prayers. I had been looking out. What I should have done was look straight down. There – 14 floors below and just across the street – was the local Newman Center, where Mass and Confession were available five days per week, along with a host of other Catholic resources, tailored to the needs of college kids.

My wife couldn’t help but notice the look of relief and gratitude on my face. She gave me a knowing smile. My son just laughed.  It was one of those faith affirming moments that we would have in common, forever.

Praise God, for he is good! 

A typical Newman Center