Florida Tech has faith in new dorms
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Awash in the blue glow of a nearby stained-glass window, Warren Pittorie is in a place where he and other students from the Florida Institute of Technology can put aside the distractions of college life for a few moments of shared peace.
“There definitely is an importance there,” the 19-year-old freshman said about following his Christian values while sitting in the All Faiths Center on the secular campus.
Pittorie, who plays drums during Catholic Mass at the campus’ All Faiths Center, also is excited about being one of the first students to apply for a room at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Student Center and Residence, a 140-bed coed dormitory designed primarily for undergraduate Catholics that will open in August.
The off-campus dormitory is the second religiously based facility funded by the Newman Student Housing Fund, a private, outreach Catholic ministry.
The Effingham, Ill.-based group has been working with secular campuses across the country during the past year to connect with young adults. The first dorm to break ground was St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Hall at Texas A&M, to be completed in August.
“This is giving students an opportunity to be formed in the faith,” said Father Douglas Bailey, Florida Tech’s Catholic chaplain. Bailey says about 150 students attend Mass at the All Faiths Center.
A small chapel will be built after the Mary Star of the Sea dorm is completed and also will be shared by students at nearby Melbourne Central Catholic High.
The 2.87-acre parcel to be used for the dormitory was purchased by the Newman Student Housing Fund from the Society of Divine Savior for $731,000 in 2011. The dormitory will be built without cost to Florida Tech.
Declining to discuss specific costs, Matt Zerrussen, vice president and co-founder of the Newman Connection, which oversees the Newman Student Housing Fund, said the fund is a for-profit group started in July 2010 by investors who plan to use revenue raised through housing to fund Catholic-themed dorms on other campuses.
The mission, Zerrusen says, is to provide footholds of faith on nonreligious campuses.
Bailey said the goal is not to isolate students but rather to help them flourish in their faith. A Pew Research Center study reports that 25 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they are not affiliated with any religion.
Bailey believes the dorm will help counter the spiritual and intellectual challenges college students face when presented with social pressures including partying, sex and drinking.
“The idea is to build (the dorm) into an intentional Christian community, and they don’t have to be Catholic to live there. I went to a grocery store the other day and a lady who attends (the nondenominational) Calvary Chapel in Melbourne told me that she wanted her daughter to live there,” Bailey said.
“Also students are so connected to other groups. ... What we want them to do is go back out and evange- lize.”
The new 50,000-square-foot dormitory, with four private apartments to a suite, is under construction directly across from the campus. Student costs, which can range from $3,575 to $3,810 a semester, will depend on the layout of the suites, said Karen Rhine, spokeswoman for Florida Tech.
Life in the dorm will reflect Catholic values, with more restrictive visitation rules and the assignment of men and women on separate floors, officials say.
“But there will be no requirements to go to Mass, no Catechism studies, no quizzes,” Zerrussen said.
Zerrussen said a website or social media link could be up and running by next week so prospective students ask for Mary Star of the Sea as a housing option.
Other students, including non-Catholics, are enthusiastic about the project. Mohamed Youssef, 24, a systems engineering graduate student and a Muslim, lauded the idea.
“I don’t have a problem with it. In Cairo, I went to a school run by the Coptic Church. So it doesn’t bother me,” Youssef said, adding he wouldn’t mind seeing other religious groups, including Muslims, have their own faith-based housing on campus.
Florida Tech’s 4,500 undergraduates include 407 students from predominantly Islamic countries. Anfal Hathah, a 22-year-old Muslim student from Saudi Arabia and the president of the International Student Service Organization, said Florida Tech’s students are not only diverse but also accepting of different cultures and faiths.
“I’ve actually had some students ask for an Islamic roommate. They are asking for interaction,” Hathah said.
Pittorie not only wants to live at Mary Star of the Sea, but he also wants to be a residential assistant.
“I’m sure you’ll have the same kind of challenges (of college life), but the culture at the dorm will be different. We’re a private university and it gives us a chance to stand out,” said Pittorie, who also works at the All Faiths Center.
Scott and Kris Noto, of Brookesville, parents of an 18-year-old prospective student at the school, stopped in front of the center and talked with Bailey.
The chaplain believes the dorm can be a recruitment tool.
“I think it’s great, it allows students who follow traditional values to be geared toward a more positive environment,” Kris Noto said.
“They can be together and not feel so apprehensive.”