Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Student Center is looking to expand out of its 73-year-old, element-and-time-taxed building and into a three-story, 46,563-square-foot building across the street from where it currently stands.
In pursuit of funding, the church spawned Wisdom for Every Generation, the campaign to completely rebuild its facilities and possibly move to the current E.K. Long parking lot. The new center’s estimated cost falls between $15 million and $20 million, and the goal is set at $22 million because of interest and upkeep.
“We are right now in the phase of making face-to-face asks asking people to make five-year pledges that can be paid off as people desire or when they’re able to,” said the Rev. Bryce Sibley, a church pastor at Wisdom.
The Diocese of Lafayette is helping Wisdom expand with a $5 million donation and fundraising; however, the church has been tasked with raising the rest. Sibley said the church will eventually reach out to current students and recent alumni for pledges and one-time gifts.
“We want as many people to know about the good things that are happening here in the ministry — the impact it’s having — and allow them to make an investment,” Sibley said.
The diocese itself is campaigning for enhanced facilities, seminarian education and priest retirement as part of its centennial campaign to better fit the church’s needs.
Sibley said Ragin’ Cajun Catholics and Wisdom have drawn students and ministries from across the U.S. in hopes of one day joining or imitating its success, respectively.
“I’d say (our ministry) is top five, top 10 in the nation. It’s grown to be very large and we’ve had a fair amount of national recognition,” he declared. He also noted that when UL Lafayette was featured in the 2014 Princeton Review’s “Best 378 Universities” college guide, it was noticed for spirituality and religious diversity.
Despite its reputation, leakage problems intermittently run throughout the facilities. Under the building is holes and empty spaces due to underwash from poor pipelines leaving Cypress Lake Swamp — an issue that was amended for the Student Union before it reopened in 2015.
“They found out that a pipe had been stopped up for probably about 30 years,” Sibley said. “That’s one of the reasons the Student Union took so long to build and was more expensive. There was washout under the whole entire building. They had to pay a half a million dollars to build it up and then put it on top of that. We had the same thing under here.
In one hallway, Sibley said it is possible for black mold to enter the lungs of anyone who would stand in it for too long. The office spaces are cramped, with some staff sharing desks and the break room sometimes transforming into an impromptu work space.
Perched on the corner of St. Mary Boulevard and serves as a resource for more than 1,000 Catholic students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. With more than 10,000 Catholic students, Sibley said the students and Ragin’ Cajun Catholics, one of the oldest campus organizations on campus, should have a facility that will last another century.
“It’s not so much about the building as much as investing in the future of the church and investing in the students,” he said.
According to statistics provided by W isdom, 350 students attend weekly mass, and over 300 students participate in bible studies. The plan designates areas designed for specifically Bible studies and a series of spaces for academic study sessions.
Mary McMahon, a junior at UL who frequents the center, said the new designs would ameliorate space issues.
“The Bible study I’m in is held in a small office, which is fine when it’s only a few of us. But for the majority of the time, half of the girls sit on the floor because there isn’t enough room for chairs for everyone,” she said.
The initial designs for the new facility also feature a pronounced church entrance, atrium and dining area. The first two floors will house the church sanctuary, which will be able to house 600 students compared to its current seating of 450.
In addition to increased seating and recreational amenities, the new center designs include a crying room, which the church currently lacks. With more than 600 families in the parish, Wisdom currently utilizes its café area as a space for unruly children and their parents. Sibley said separating the families, with those in the crying room watching via telecast, is an alienating experience.
“The becomes sort of like the playroom, actually, because there’s no sense of the sacred, and it gets loud in there,” he said.
Moving to the other side of St. Mary Boulevard would allow growth; however, Sibley said the university and the church are still discussing whether moving is a possibility.
If the move fails, Sibley said the center’s growth may be stunted due to the tree line that prevents them from expanding.
“We have the same architects that the university does,” he said. “There was talk of potentially putting a storefront there, but there’s no specific plan for it.”
Sibley said the church will retain some of its key designs such as latin lining the walls and the cross by the altar; however, he said some still hold a special connection with the church.
“It’s not an ugly church at all, it’s just there are a lot of people who have sort of sentimental connections to the church. You gotta understand that students don’t, and we’re building it for the students,” he said. “Our campaign is called ‘Wisdom for every generation,’ and we need support from other generations, but we need to build a facility that’s there for the next 100 years.”
“With Jesus, friends and coffee all in the same room, I can’t think of a better place on campus, and I am so excited to see the growth of the student center,” she said.