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A look inside the new St. Paul's Newman Center, a space for NDSU students

The newly constructed St. Paul's Newman Center opened this fall in time for a new school year, but its centerpiece will have to wait another year before completion.

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A mosaic in the chapel of St. Paul's Newman Center in Fargo, which is still under construction.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — The new St. Paul’s Newman Center next to North Dakota State University is open to students and staff, but the crown jewel of the Catholic gathering place will have to wait another year before being unveiled.

Office staff moved in on Feb. 1 and the rest of the facility, except for its chapel, opened on Aug. 15, just before students came back to campus.

On Monday, Oct. 17, The Forum took a tour of the center at 1141 University Drive N., owned by the Catholic Diocese of Fargo.

The facility replaces the old Newman Center built in 1958 with a $250,000 insurance policy, after the previous simple Quonset chapel was destroyed the year prior by an F-5 tornado.

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The entryway of the new St. Paul's Newman Center next to North Dakota State University in Fargo.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

For the ministry's longtime leader, the Rev. James Cheney, the plan was 15 years in the making.

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“It's been tremendous. It's really been great to see the students transition into the new facility,” Cheney said.

The campus ministry was temporarily housed in an old office space in north Fargo while construction on the new center was ongoing.

The St. Paul’s Newman Center was built with funds from a campaign that’s raised $33.2 million to date.

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The chapel at St. Paul's Newman Center in Fargo, under construction on Oct. 17, 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Bryan Wilburn, director of development, said they started with a $21.5 million goal. But in 2020, the goal was revised upward due to higher building costs and to purchase an organ and liturgical items for the chapel.

Wilburn said support for the project was broad reaching, coming from nearly 3,000 donors.

“When we started off, many people said ‘No way.’ But it's been awesome to see so many people come together, and they did it for the students,” Wilburn said.

The Newman Center occupies about half of a city block, running east to west along 12th Avenue North, and is attached to faith-based housing known as Newman Living, home to more than 80 students.

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The new St. Paul's Newman Center in north Fargo as seen on Sept. 22, 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

“What we discovered is if the students live here, you just have that much more time to work with them,” Cheney said.

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A separate apartment project to the south, known as The View and constructed by Roers Development, drew controversy early on from neighbors concerned about its size and additional traffic, and the fact that some single-family homes, though dilapidated, would have to be torn down.

A compromise in 2019 that allowed the project to go forward included a reduction in the number of apartments, the addition of 11 townhomes by Roers meant to shield a large parking lot from other homes in the area and the addition of more green space next to the new chapel.

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Mass at the new St. Paul's Newman Center has been held in the parish hall because the chapel is still under construction.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The Newman Center features a bell tower and a wide open main entryway, flanked by the Crux Coffee shop and a student lounge and study area.

On the first floor, administrative offices include a space for peer ministers and campus ministry, where student leaders can plan events and activities, along with classrooms for Catholic studies and a library.

On the second floor is a music room, open gathering space and a parish hall that can seat 325. Meals are served and students attend Mass there for now, until the chapel opens.

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This stained-glass window in the new St. Paul's Newman Center in Fargo was salvaged from the previous Newman Center.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Across from the parish hall is a stained-glass window, retained from the old Newman Center. When finished, the chapel will also feature numerous stained-glass windows.

The chapel is a basilica-style church that will seat 425 people and feature sacred art and other liturgical items.

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Nathan Carr, director of campus ministry, in his office at the new St Paul's Newman Center on Oct. 17, 2022, by North Dakota State University in Fargo.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Cheney referred to a mosaic of the 12 apostles that spans the curved back wall of the sanctuary, installed last summer by a crew of artists from Italy.

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For now, it’s wrapped up tight with plastic until the messy stages of construction have passed.

“It’s a tremendous piece of art. The chapel is going to be glorious,” Cheney said.

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Michael Payne, right, a FOCUS missionary, talks with a student on Oct. 17, 2022, at the new St. Paul's Newman Center near North Dakota State University.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain delays and a tight labor market have all contributed to construction delays with the chapel.

Cheney said he hopes it can be ready in September 2023, the realization of a longtime dream.

When Cheney came to NDSU in the ‘80s from a small dairy farm in Minnesota, he hoped to play football for the Bison and fly jets for the Air Force. Instead, his first year was “a disaster.”

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The Rev. James Cheney at St. Paul’s Newman Center on Oct. 17, 2022, in north Fargo.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

“I was really into partying … but everywhere I went, it was just empty,” he said.

His search for meaning in life brought him to the old Newman Center, where he initially worked as a janitor. Later came retreats and chats with a priest, which put his life on a different course.

“The Newman Center changed my life, and so I want that for every student,” he said.

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The old St. Paul's Newman Center, seen in 2019, near North Dakota State University in Fargo.
Barry Amundson / The Forum

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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