New Catholic center at UMass gets $500K gift

  • The Newman Center building, at 472 North Pleasant St., was sold to the university last fall for $12.5 million. It will be replaced by a smaller building, also on North Pleasant. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, April 26, 2021

AMHERST — A $2 million capital campaign underway for the construction of a new Newman Catholic Center, likely to open in spring 2022, is already halfway toward its goal due, in large part, to a gift from an alumnus.

George “Trigger” Burke, who is the honorary chairman of the “Miracles Happen… When Heart Speaks to Heart” campaign, recently made a $500,000 contribution, one of the 52 donors who have pledged a combined $1 million toward the project.

As a result of Burke’s gift, the worship space inside the new building, to be constructed at North Pleasant Street and Thatcher Road, will bear his name.

Burke, a 1956 graduate, was a star basketball player at UMass, receiving national recognition, played briefly with the Boston Celtics and later attended Boston College School of Law. His career has included serving on the Quincy City Council, as a state representative and as acting mayor of Quincy, as well as Norfolk County district attorney.

The new 19,000-square-foot building will replace the 58,000-square-foot building at 472 North Pleasant St. that opened in April 1963 and which the Springfield Catholic Diocese sold to UMass for $12.5 million last August.

The new building, on land being leased from UMass for a one-time $2.1 million payment, will include a chapel, a research center with private student rooms, lounges, the Newman Cafe, administrative offices, a conference room, outdoor gathering and dining spaces and gardens. The Amherst Planning Board looked at the plans in November, though no approval was needed because the building will be in an educationally zoned district.

Plans show an L-shaped building with a white stone facade and flat roof, and large windows in the community spaces. Stained-glass windows provide much of the natural light in the 400-seat chapel, where there will also be a 15-seat choir loft.

Virginia Webb, director of development for the Newman Center, said the capital campaign is expected to remain in place for at least a year. “It will probably go until the building is completed,” Webb said.

Groundbreaking is possible sometime next month.

“We’re looking at the possibility of May. We’re just waiting on a contractor,” Webb said.

Construction will then take about 12 months.

Packets of information will be mailed to all donors, and a newsletter will be sent to donors three times a year detailing the construction progress and campaign totals. People interested in contributing should go to newmanumass.org or call the center at 549-0300.