CONWAY—A new era is on the horizon for campus ministry at Coastal Carolina University.
Catholic students will soon have their own space to call home on campus for the first time in the growing school’s history.
Father David Nerbun, the first full-time chaplain for Coastal, is leading efforts to construct a Newman Center inside a house located at 396 West Cox Ferry Road, about a quarter mile from Coastal’s freshman dorms. The person who owned the property where the house sits sold it to the Diocese of Charleston.
Newman Centers are central locations for Catholic ministry on non-Catholic campuses.
Having one at Coastal will be a game changer for the school’s community. Currently, students attend Mass at the interdenominational Lackey Chapel, which they share with other faith groups. A Newman Center will provide a central location for all campus ministry and allow more flexibility in scheduling worship, holy hours, confessions, Bible study and other programs. It will also help increase awareness of the Catholic community.
This is a critical need on a campus where it is estimated that about 30 percent of the 11,000 students are Catholic, but a core group of only about 30 people consistently turn out for Mass and other activities, Father Nerbun said.
Father Nerbun quickly realized the importance of expanding outreach to students after he started working at Coastal in August 2018, citing sobering statistics that show about 50 percent of young Catholics stop practicing their faith at age 18, and that increases to 80 percent by age 23.
“There is a need for building a real community, a real fellowship among Catholic students, and the center will help with that,” he said.
Work has already begun. Father Nerbun said the house has been gutted and the next step is to bring the interior up to code. Volunteers from St. James Church in Conway and other area parishes, as well as Knights of Columbus and Coastal students, have worked hard during special service days. The most recent was held Feb. 23.
Father Nerbun has also been working to secure funds to complete the center. He has applied for grants from the Carvel Family Foundation and a few others, and has visited every parish in the Myrtle Beach Deanery to explain the project and raise funds. He said the goal is to raise about $800,000 to complete the Newman Center.
Local Catholics are stepping up to help in various ways. One man, who owns a paving business and whose daughter attends Coastal, agreed to build the parking lot for the center.
“This whole effort is really about building community,” Father Nerbun said. “I tell people that it is not about the money, it is about investing in the vision for campus ministry here. This is important because this is the only campus ministry in the deanery, and one of only three in the state, that has a full-time priest assigned to it.”
Ministry at Coastal will also benefit from four FOCUS missionaries who will arrive in Conway in August. FOCUS is a national outreach program that sends young adult missionaries to college campuses to help students strengthen their faith. Father Nerbun said peer-to-peer outreach is an important part of ministering to college students, and FOCUS missionaries have already had a lot of success at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
“I have been trying to emphasize the importance of helping students develop a personal relationship with the Lord, and of making campus ministry at Coastal a real community,” he said. “When you look at the statistics, this is where we have to place our priorities. I want to help the students have their own faith community where they receive the sacraments, the sustenance to study and learn more about themselves and to become leaders in the Church.”
Photo provided: Father David Nerbun, chaplain at Coastal Carolina University, cuts a tree on property that will house the Newman Center.