Catholic Center Off to Busy Start in Georgia

Linda DiPietro Friar News

ATHENS, Ga. — Fall and the beginning of a new academic year is a hectic time at the University of Georgia’s Catholic Center, but the hard work of the staff members over the summer months helped to prepare for the influx of students and made the start-up process smoother than ever.

The center’s staff members, including Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, director since 2005, and David Hyman, OFM, met many new and returning students before the official start of classes as they poured into the center office to register and request parking permits.

Then, on Aug. 22, the students filled the beautiful chapel to attend the first Sunday night student Mass of the new academic year, celebrated by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. His thought-provoking homily encouraged the students to remember the universality of the church and to develop their Catholic identity through participating in the sacraments and works of peace and justice.

The archbishop continued his visit with students as they gathered for the first Sunday night dinner following Mass. Students expressed their appreciation to the kitchen volunteers and for the warm welcome.

Fundraising Efforts and Celebrations
Thomas said the Common Sense Campaign, a capital improvement fundraiser, which launched in March 2010, has been an “amazing success.” Pledges are nearing the half-million dollar campaign goal for the three-year initiative.

Cash donations have been at a rate high enough to receive a green light from the Archdiocese of Atlanta to begin a roof replacement in November. It has been humbling to have such numerous and diverse contributors: members and nonmembers, individuals and groups, Catholics and non-Catholics.

There is much appreciation and excitement at the Catholic Center.

New Activities
Drew Haro, the new director of religious education, hit the ground running — literally. Haro is an avid runner and former assistant coach of high school cross country and track, so it only seemed natural for him to initiate a new activity at the Catholic Center involving his favorite hobby.

“Footsteps” has been warmly-received as the newest activity at the center. The group fosters a friendly and encouraging running atmosphere for anyone looking to improve their faith through fitness. Haro has 60 members in the Footsteps e-mail group, and about a third regularly attend one of the three weekly gatherings.

Each session begins with an opening prayer or idea to contemplate during the physical activity. Haro also ensures proper hydration by providing chilled water.

The religious education program at the center is underway with more than 200 children enrolled. The teaching cadre of roughly 50 is primarily made up of college students — youthful role models to help the youngsters develop their faith.

The center also provides many opportunities for ongoing formation. David reports that there are 25 members in the seventh JustFaith group. Tom reports that he has 45 students attending Thursday night theology discussions — the highest number ever.

These groups and the varied opportunities for outreach at the Catholic Center reflect the vibrant participation of its Eucharistic liturgies from which communal life stems.

The photo above shows Tom with Haro.

— Linda DiPietro works at the Catholic Center at University of Georgia in Athens.