CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
Taking the place of an old hotel and restaurant by University Boulevard, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s newest residence hall has drawn scores of people since opening at the beginning of the fall semester, a trend the hall’s residence life staff would like to see continue.
St. Junípero Serra Hall, also known as “J. Serra,” is the result of a $5 million renovation of an old Best Western Hotel and is quickly becoming known as one of the most attractive residence halls on campus, bringing in visitors from all over campus.
Ian Gill, who served as residence director of Trinity Hall for the past two years, is taking the reigns as the new hall’s first residence director and is excited for the possibilities the new hall has to offer.
“This is a new step, a new journey into what a residence hall at Franciscan should be,” he said.
The university’s newest residence hall since the opening of Sts. Louis and Elizabeth Halls in 2007, St. Junípero Serra Hall inhabits the location previously occupied by the hotel and Damon’s Bar and Sports Grill, right on University Boulevard. In addition to the residence hall itself, both Men’s Ministry and the Priestly Discernment Program will have full-time offices in the building.
The hall has the capacity to house up to 181 male residents and features several amenities, including a Eucharistic chapel, designated study rooms, eight common rooms, two game rooms, several lounges, three parlors and a large theater. Each bedroom has its own air conditioning and a private bathroom, including a sink, toilet and shower.
Along with keeping the hall clean, maintaining a healthy community is Gill’s top priority because, he said, that is how residents and households will want to come down and place their roots in the new hall.
“If you think about Francis Hall, guys will live in Francis and forego air conditioning and nice rooms because the community is so rich,” he said. “My goal is that there’s such a vibrant community that it’s not even a question that people will want to come down here.”
While the new hall does pose some new challenges and concerns – like the stigma of having to climb up and down the hill several times a day – Gill says that there is an easy solution to that problem: households.
“Households are the best and most effective way to integrate students into a faith community,” Gill said. “We really put households in the forefront as what we want people doing: engaging in spirituality, engaging on campus, joining one of these faith-based households and growing in brotherhood to make life-long friends.”
“If it weren’t for the households, I doubt the hall would survive spiritually. The community would be a desert.”
Four households are located in the residence hall: Living Stones and Koinonia on second floor, In His Image on first floor and Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam on ground floor.
Gill said he has talked with the households’ coordinators and that he has been impressed with how the households plan to be proactive and stay viable to maintain their statuses as large and lively households.
In addition to households, Gill and his resident assistants hope to create a certain culture for the dorm to continue drawing people down. The residence life staff has plans for Ping-Pong tournaments, movie nights and other programs they hope will draw students to the new hall.
Senior Todd Steger, one of the hall’s resident assistants, said that having households and the extra space in the new dorm gives it a sort of viability that lower campus dorms didn’t have before.
“It draws the community down here,” said Steger, “and provides kind of a firm grounding for it, as opposed to Bonaventure and Padua where people have been more reluctant to come down to because of the lack of common spaces and the lack of households.”
Gill added, saying, “We want people to come use the chapel, use the common spaces and not just stay in their rooms. We want to make the soil around the hall super rich so that people can go and build community. It’s worth it to come down.”
So far, Gill said he has been pleased with the amount of people coming down to hang out in the hall. On any given night, residents can be seen giving tours of the building to friends who are seeing it for the first time, and Gill hopes that keeps going and that the friends come back to hang out some more.
“The freshmen community has been progressing very well,” he said. “I also have a lot of rugby and soccer guys here and they bring their teammates to the hall, too. They’ve been doing a great job of not just going to practice, but going to commitments, playing Ping-Pong, and I just see them as a big part of the hall.”
As the hall continues to grow, Gill said he would like to see as many as four more households move down there and more students choosing to come down to St. Junípero Serra Hall at the next housing fair.
“My hope is that the hill becomes a non-factor because there’s going to be so much culture and so many households here that the walk becomes not even a factor,” he said. “It’s that you want to be in the nice building. You want to be a part of the community.”
Freshman Augustine Tabeling said that the new hall had far exceeded his expectations and that living there was well worth any sacrifice.
“I just love it here,” he said. “There is the trek up the hill, but this hall makes up for it.”
“The fact that we have all these big TVs is going to make for some awesome movie nights,” he added excitedly.