New Catholic Center aims to involve students

College is the time in most students’ lives when they begin to truly define themselves, find their individuality and make major life decisions. Some turn to their friends for help, some to their families and some to their faith.

The new USC Caruso Catholic Center and Our Savior Parish hopes to cater to students dealing with this experience, USC trustee Rick Caruso said.

At a mass on Monday evening, Fr. Lawrence Seyer and some of the parish’s most dedicated Catholic members celebrated the beginning of the school year and the opening of the renewed center after 10 years of construction and preparation.

The previous two buildings simply were too small to provide sufficient resources for the nearly 10,000 Catholic students out of the combined 37,000 undergraduate and graduate students at USC.

Caruso, the benefactor for the construction, joked that the initial architectural plans for the buildings simply weren’t spectacular enough to do his faith justice.

“In my mind, this center is all about being the best,” Caruso said. “The students at USC are the best in the country, and we need to have a place where we talk about our religion, our faith — where we think about the importance of our faith, and how it plays a role in our life.”

Caruso hopes USC’s Catholic Center will be similar to the Hoover Institute’s think tank, saying that USC now has the opportunity to be better than other universities in the religious and spiritual realm.

Dean of Religious Studies Varun Soni said he agrees with Caruso.

“The ages of 18 and 26 are the best times in students’ lives to ask the big questions of ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is the purpose of life?’” Soni said. “The university experience enables students to think about these questions both inside and outside the classroom.”

Now, the separate courtyard, stone chapel and brick student center make up over 27,000 sq. ft. as opposed to the old combined chapel and center’s 10,000 sq. ft. The new Romanesque chapel features shimmering marble floors, high wooden ceilings and a beautiful stone crucifix in the center of the hall.

“The new building definitely has a more Catholic presence and feel to it than the previous one,” said Alex Retana, a senior majoring in history and social science education.

With more modern architecture, the chapel and center fits in well with other USC buildings, especially with the new developments being made to campus by President C. L. Max Nikias.

Though Mass and various service programs are geared toward Catholic students, the two new buildings are open to all.

“It’s not just for Catholic students — my hope is that all walks of life come through these doors,” Caruso said. “Every religion and every ethnicity can come through these doors and learn about each other’s faiths and through all of that, we’ll get stronger.”

The Catholic community is looking to expand their student programs along with their physical buildings, according to Caruso. The new center aims to increase student involvement with innovative outreach ministries, programs, events and lecture series in order to invigorate intellectual life on campus.

For example, Peer Ministry President Victoria Alonso became involved with the USC Catholic Center by joining the “Small Catholic Community” where she discussed her faith with other students.

“The Catholic Center has really allowed me to grow in my faith as well as provided balance in my life,” she said.

Pastoral Council Chair Sergio Avelar, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said the Catholic community at USC is one of his passions and said other students can find similar excitement in the new center.

“There’s so much we can do, and why not now?” Avelar said. “This is the perfect time — we have a brand new facility and we’re looking to be one of the top campus ministries in the country.”