| By Kiki Hayden | Correspondent

New church serves growing student population

In 1904, Father John Gleissner was impressed to meet several A&M college students who walked six miles from campus to St. Joseph Parish in Bryan each Sunday for Mass. “No matter how the weather, they came,” Father Gleissner said, according to the St. Mary Catholic Center website. That same year, the priest received permission to celebrate Mass at the A&M Campus in one of the classrooms in the Civil Engineering building.

Nearly 120 years and several church buildings later, on July 29, Bishop Joe Vásquez dedicated a new church for Aggies. The majestic building with traditional Western Catholic architecture that seats more than 1,500 sits just a few blocks off the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.

At the dedication, Bishop Vásquez congratulated the community and thanked them for their dedication to building the kingdom of God.

“St. Mary’s continues to be an excellent model of campus ministry in this country,” he said. “St. Mary’s is a place where vocations are fostered … not only to the priesthood and religious life but also to the sacrament of marriage.”

St. Mary Catholic Center serves the growing community of about 70,000 students from Texas A&M and Blinn College, of which an estimated 17,000 are Catholic. The Catholic center is also home to a few hundred permanent parishioners who are dedicated to St. Mary’s mission of forming apostles for the Church and the world.

Annie Abrams, class of 2026 at Texas A&M, has enjoyed seeing the construction from her desk as the receptionist at St. Mary Catholic Center. She considers St. Mary’s to be “a second home,” she said.

Abrams, who has met her best friends at various retreats hosted by the Catholic center, also looks forward to spending time with other friends in the new church: saintly friends. The church is lined with images of many of the saints and passages from Scripture — a visible reminder that during Mass, Heaven and Earth worship together.

Abrams, a horticulture major, has a devotion to St. Rose of Lima, patron saint of gardeners. One of the windows of the new church currently boasts a sticker that says, “Future home of St. Rose of Lima stained-glass window.”

Father Will Straten, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Center, said the windows depict “saints that either students had a devotion to, or that had a connection to Mary, and … saints that were connected to youth.” The statues in the new church were chosen as “a nod to the churches in the Bryan/College Station area.”

Father Straten said in the new church students and parishioners will “worship God and give him praise and due honor … and recognize all our brothers and sisters here in this church. This church wasn’t built by one person. It took a whole community to build the church.”

Aaron Bovy, a recent graduate of Texas A&M watched the construction of the new church throughout his time as a student.

“Catholicism in Texas A&M isn’t outdated; it’s growing with the university,” he said. “When I was a freshman, half of our student center didn’t even exist ... [the lot where the new church sits] was a parking lot when I was a freshman.”

Bovy, who worked as a student intern at St. Mary’s throughout his senior year and who is headed to Wisconsin for a new job, expressed gratitude for the vibrant culture of St. Mary’s Catholic Center.

“Their formation is amazing, the community, the priests, the culture is phenomenal. And so, I’m really excited to be able to take that to other people who haven’t had that experience,” he said.

During his homily at the dedication Mass, Bishop Vásquez declared the new church a blessed and beautiful house of God.

“This noble structure is dedicated to the honor and glory of God. In this holy place, we encounter the living God in the celebration of the liturgy. In this encounter, we are transformed into a people of faith,” the bishop said.

Another reminder for all who worship at St. Mary Catholic Center is the Great Commission painted in red lettering on gold on the choir loft: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

For more information on the activities of St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station and for a virtual tour of the new church, visit www.aggiecatholic.org.

The choir loft at St. Mary Catholic Center challenges all to go make disciples. Photo by Ashley Valle
The new church at St. Mary Catholic Center sits a few blocks off the campus of Texas A&M University. Photo by Ashley Valle

Kiki Hayden has written for Catholic publications since 2019. She married into a Byzantine Catholic family and became Byzantine rite herself; she is a parishioner of St. Basil the Great Parish in Irving.