St. Thomas More Chapel leaders broke ground Sunday on the $50 million state-of-the-art Thomas E. Golden Jr. Catholic Center.

The Golden Center, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2007, will offer Yale’s approximately 1,250 Catholic students a “world-class spiritual and community complex” to match the University’s “world-class education,” said Matt Wrather ’02, St. Thomas More’s program director.

The church’s plans for the center on Park Street have expanded tenfold since it was originally planned as a 3,000 square foot, $5 million project on a plot adjoining the north side of the chapel, thanks to alumni donations and cooperation from the University, said Kerry Robinson DIV ’94, the church’s development director. It will now be built south of the chapel on a 35,000 square foot swath of land the University is leasing to the church for $20 over the next 99 years. In exchange, St. Thomas More will construct a retail-and-office complex at 278-282 Park Street, north of the chapel, for University tenants to occupy.

Thomas E. Golden, Jr., ’51, who donated $25 million to the project, said he views the project as an intellectual and spiritual haven for Yale’s Catholic community.

“In an age where all our values are in question, my donation represents a perpetuation of faith coexisting with reason, since both have played such a dominant role in my adult life,” Golden said.

In addition to Golden’s donation, St. Thomas More has raised $17 million from other Catholic alumni, totaling $42 million out of the $50 million necessary to build and endow the Golden Center. St. Thomas More honorary trustee James Carolan said he credits the University for part of the success of the campaign, since Yale has allowed alumni to count pledges to the chapel — which is affiliated with neither Yale nor the Archdiocese of Hartford — as part of their reunion gift.

The result is a state-of-the-art complex, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, that combines lecture space, libraries, a glass-enclosed courtyard and a meditation chapel into what Ifeanyi Anidi ’06, the undergraduate representative to the church’s building committee, calls “the first real gathering place for Catholic students at Yale.”

The center will be open to all members of the Yale and New Haven community, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Cathy Leahy, who operates St. Thomas More’s soup kitchen, said the new building cannot come soon enough.

“St. Thomas More groups were meeting in random basements, that’s how little space we have relative to the size of our community,” Leahy said.

Sunday’s events included a special mass led by Archbishop Henry Mansell and a ground-breaking ceremony featuring such notables as New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., St. Thomas More Board of Trustees President Guido Calabresi ’53 LAW ’58, and Fr. Robert Beloin, the University’s Catholic chaplain, whom Robinson credited with attracting many students and residents to the church.

The Park Street construction site once housed the Yale Herald, annex housing for Pierson College and the Yale Children’s Theater, among other organizations.

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