Belmont Abbey College launches $100 million campaign to fund campus, academic improvements
Belmont Abbey College is a Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont, North Carolina, about 20 miles west of Charlotte. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
Belmont Abbey College's $100 million capital campaign, the largest in the North Carolina Catholic school's nearly 150-year history, seeks to fund major campus and academic upgrades as well as a new Benedictine monastery. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
The Benedictine monks who live in community on the grounds of Belmont Abbey College form the spiritual foundation of the North Carolina liberal arts school. A new capital campaign includes funds for the construction of a new monastery. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
The only Catholic college on the East Coast between Northern Virginia and Florida, Belmont Abbey College offers nearly 50 undergraduate, graduate, professional and pre-professional fields of study, and has a 95% acceptance rate into medical schools. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
About half of the roughly 1,500-member student body at Belmont Abbey College is Catholic, the school says. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
The Mary Help of Christians Basilica on the grounds of Belmont Abbey College is described as "the beating heart of campus." | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
The Benedictine monks who live on the grounds of Belmont Abbey College are actively involved in the life of the school. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
An artist's rendering of the new Benedictine monastery, adjacent to Mary Help of Christians Basilica, that Belmont Abbey College plans to build, along with other new on-campus facilities, through a $100 million capital campaign. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
William K. Thierfelder, who had a background in business and sports psychology before he became the president of Belmont Abbey College in 2004, started the school's turnaround with a recommitment to the college's Catholic identity. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
Students attend an outdoor class at Belmont Abbey College. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
The wood-and-glass Belmont Abbey College adoration chapel sits in the middle of campus and serves as a physical reminder that “Christ is the center of Belmont Abbey.” | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
According to Belmont Abbey, the new performing arts center “will give The Abbey Players — the oldest performing arts group in North Carolina — an elegant new venue that can host larger audiences and be used by the local community for events and performances.” | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
Belmont House opened its doors in Washington, D.C., in 2021 and serves as a center for Catholic community and advocacy in the heart of Capitol Hill. | Courtesy of Belmont Abbey College
Father Augustine Deji Dada of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria; Marcela Szymanski, editor of Aid to the church in Need's Religious Freedom Report; and Rep. French Hill at a meeting on Christian persecution in Nigeria held at Belmont House in Washington, D.C. | Belmont House
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 19, 2023 / 06:00 am
Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts school in North Carolina noted for its adherence to Church teaching, has launched a $100 million capital campaign to finance a host of campus and academic improvements.
The ambitious goal — equivalent to a roughly eightfold increase in the college’s current $12 million endowment — would fund a new performing arts center, new academic programs, and a new monastery for its resident Benedictine monks, whose predecessors established the now 1,500-student school in 1876.
In addition, the campaign aims to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate reliance on federal aid, which is increasingly tied to LGBTQ mandates and other conditions at odds with Catholic teaching, in part through new stewardship programs designed to help students graduate debt-free.
With $72 million already secured, Belmont Abbey aims to reach its goal by 2026 to coincide with the school’s 150th anniversary. The college formally announced the campaign at a gala Saturday night at Founders Hall in uptown Charlotte, about 20 miles east of the school’s campus in Belmont.
“We’ve come to this point in time in the history of Belmont Abbey where it’s really ready just to explode and to flourish,” the college’s president, William Thierfelder, told CNA.
Titled “Made True,” the campaign has three tiers, each aimed at different goals:
The first tier, “Made Free,” tied to promoting personal freedom and virtue, earmarks $15 million for new career, vocation, and family programs, as well as the construction of a new performing arts center and a new monastery to replace the brick structure the monks constructed by hand in 1888.
The second tier, “Made Strong,” centered on protecting religious liberty and ensuring faithful Catholics have a voice in the public square, aims to invest $30 million in programs in nursing, public policy, and finance.
The largest portion of the campaign, called “Made Secure,” seeks $55 million to secure Belmont Abbey’s financial freedom so it is not dependent on federal aid.
“This is a campaign that is not just about Belmont Abbey College,” Philip Brach, the school’s vice president of college relations, told CNA. “It’s a campaign that is going to impact the culture, the Church, and the country.”
Abbot Placid Solari, the college’s chancellor who also oversees the community of Benedictine monks on campus, called the campaign “one of the biggest events in the college’s history.”
“We are humbled and grateful for the extraordinary support we have received through the silent phase of the campaign,” he said in a press release, “and we now invite alumni, students, and families, and people across the region, to help us close the funding gap and ensure that this type of education is available for future generations.”
Centered on Christ, Catholic values
The enthusiasm surrounding the new campaign stands in stark contrast to the grim circumstances Thierfelder, a former track-and-field Olympian with a background in business and sports psychology, faced in 2004 when he became Belmont Abbey’s 20th president.
At the time, there was talk of shutting down the school for financial reasons, Thierfelder recalled. Despite the lack of resources, one of his first major initiatives was the construction of a new, wood-and-glass eucharistic adoration chapel on campus to show that Christ is the center of Belmont Abbey.
“About 90% of all the money that came for the adoration chapel came from people who had never heard of Belmont Abbey before, had never been here before, but they knew what an adoration chapel was, and they thought it was really important,” Thierfelder explained.
The lesson, for Thierfelder, was that great things are possible when God comes first.
“At our essence is our faith in Jesus Christ, and it’s in following the teachings of the Catholic Church that we hopefully provide our students with an education and formation that will prepare them to bring the light of Christ to the rest of the world,” he said.
Marking a further commitment to its Catholic identity, Belmont Abbey in 2011 became the first higher education institution to file a lawsuit against the U.S. government in opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which forced Catholic colleges and universities to cover birth control and abortifacients in their employee health plans in violation of their religious beliefs.
The litigation, which led to a successful class-action lawsuit, eventually forced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to change its rules to broaden the ACA’s exemption for religious employers.
Stepping out in faith
Since then, Belmont Abbey’s enrollment has grown steadily, and the college is perennially included among the two dozen or so Catholic colleges and universities The Cardinal Newman Society recognizes for having a commitment to providing students with a faithful Catholic education.
The only Catholic college on the East Coast between Northern Virginia and Florida, Belmont Abbey now offers nearly 50 undergraduate, graduate, professional, and pre-professional fields of study, and boasts of having a 95% acceptance rate to medical schools. About half the student body is Catholic, the college says.
In 2021, the school opened Belmont House in Washington, D.C., as a center for Benedictine hospitality and Catholic community and advocacy on Capitol Hill. And last year, Belmont Abbey entered into a contract with Caromont Health to build a public hospital on abbey-owned land — a boon for the college’s nursing and science programs.
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Meanwhile, even before the start of the Made True campaign, two new dormitories, a new sports complex, and improvements to the science center already were underway.
“The kind of individuals that are coming from Belmont Abbey [have] never been more needed in the culture that we live in today,” Thierfelder told CNA.
Thierfelder likened the college’s ambitious fundraising efforts to “repairing the wing of the plane while you’re flying it.” But Belmont Abbey is ready to embrace the challenge.
“We’re called to trust absolutely in God and all that he has in store for us, and at the same time to use all of our skills, talents, and abilities to their full,” he said, “and so that’s what we're doing.”