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Frat row, meet the neighbors

The fraternity and sorority houses lining University Avenue will have a new neighbor this fall. But don't expect the newcomers to throw a toga party. UND's Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry based in St. Thomas Aquinas parish at 410 Camb...

The fraternity and sorority houses lining University Avenue will have a new neighbor this fall.

But don't expect the newcomers to throw a toga party.

UND's Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry based in St. Thomas Aquinas parish at 410 Cambridge, in April purchased the former Delta Delta Delta sorority house at 2620 University Ave. The center plans to turn it into a 40-bed dorm for female Catholic students who say they feel out of place with the drinking and premarital sex that's common in public university dorms and student apartments.

This Catholic venture is kind of a new deal.

"It's becoming a trend now, using housing as an opportunity for evangelization and to help build a Catholic community" said the Rev. Raymond Courtright, the priest at the Newman Center. "A lot of people are very unhappy with the living arrangements available at this point. They're looking for something where they feel supported in a common spirit, in their academic endeavors as well as in a spiritual life."


About 20 students have signed up to live in the dorm this fall, Courtright said, which is about the number he wants for the first year while the house is remodeled.

The dorm also will house two female Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionaries, recent college graduates who travel to different campuses to lead Bible study groups and other religious activities. The national FOCUS program is 10 years old and a sort of answer to evangelical campus ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ. Courtright is credited with building a large FOCUS program at UND.

About three-quarters of the students who've signed up to live in the new dorm regularly participate in Bible studies, and all are interested in living in a more serene environment with stricter rules, Courtright said. Male visitors, for example, won't be allowed on floors with bedrooms in them.

Sororities at UND are part of the "dry" campus, with no alcohol or overnight visitors allowed. Fraternities have opted out of being officially "on" campus and generally allow alcohol and overnight visitors.

The new dorm doesn't have a name yet, Courtright said, but the incoming residents have come up with a few suggestions.

"We'll leave the name up to the girls," he said. "Now we're just calling it the Newman House. We'll let them talk about it and pray about it and see what our Lord might be calling (them to do.) Some want to call it Mary's House (for Jesus' mother, the Virgin Mary). Some want to call it the Maria Goretti House." Goretti, he said, was a devout Italian girl who allowed herself to be killed rather than submit to being raped and was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1950.

Courtright acknowledged -- with a laugh -- that the chaste and sober Catholic dorm might be seen as a sort of sore thumb smack in the center of fraternity row. But Courtright said he welcomes the challenge.

"They'll notice there are no kegs sitting in the front yard and they'll wonder 'how can you guys have all this fun over there without draining a keg,' " he joked.


The Catholic dorm will be a first in North Dakota, Courtright said, though North Dakota State University is considering something similar.

Newman Centers around the country have been opening dorms in recent years, often beginning in a defunct sorority or fraternity house, Courtright said. The Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the largest in the nation, recently built a new dorm that will house more than 500 students from the university and the nearby Parkland community college, according to a 2007 article in the National Catholic Register.

The sale of the Tri-Delta house to the Newman House followed a settlement in a legal battle between the sorority's local and national chapters, both of which claimed they had rightful ownership of the property. The local chapter's charter was revoked in 2006, mostly because its membership had sunk below a sustaining level. The house was assessed by the city at about $350,000 in 2006.

Courtright said the Newman Center paid for the house with money on hand and a fundraising drive.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, said Sylvia Kloster, a Grand Forks attorney who lived in the house as an undergraduate in the early '80s and assisted with the Newman House sale.

As a result, it's not entirely clear whether the Newman House purchased the property from the local tri-Delta chapter, the national office, or a combination of the two. But Kloster said the most important thing for tri-Delta alumni is that the house will stay inside the UND community.

UND's Chester Fritz Library has agreed to house some sorority composites, something like a yearbook, with small photos and identifying information for all former members.

"I believe the women were very happy that a good organization was going to take the reins going forward," Kloster said. "They have an appreciation of the historic nature of the house and the special piece of property it is. We have mixed feelings obviously, but everyone's happy it's staying within the university and someone didn't come in with a wrecking ball or convert it to apartments or something that would destroy the integrity of the house."


Reach Marks at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to jmarks@gfherald.com .

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