The Newman Student Housing Fund is working to establish faith-based dormitories on two college campuses, housing students starting the fall semester of 2013.

"What makes them work is the community," Matt Zerrusen, president of Newman Student Housing Fund, told CNA Jan. 2.

"We're just putting people together in a dorm who are faith-based, and want to keep their faith through college," he added, and "we're just putting them in an environment to succeed."

Florida Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University – Kingsville, both secular universities, will offer student housing coupled with campus ministry for Catholics next academic year.

Groundbreaking for the dorms occurred in October at Kingsville, and in December in Melbourne, the site of Florida Institute of Technology.

Zerrusen said the intention of the dormitories is to provide a faith-based community, without requiring dramatic sacrifices of students – "you don't have to memorize the Catechism to live here … but we'll surround you with positive Catholic influences."

He plans to expand the model to other universities, and is already in discussion with a few campus ministry programs.

Father Douglas Bailey, SDS, is the chaplain at Florida Institute of Technology, and said he has dreamed of a Catholic residence hall throughout the 30 years of his ministry at the university.

He told CNA that he contacted Zerrusen with his vision for campus ministry, and that "we want to make it into an intentional Christian community."

"My idea was to use the Notre Dame model, where you have a chapel in the dorm, and a rector or someone there responsible for the Christian life."

He says the residence hall at Florida Institute of Technology will be open to all students, not just Catholics. "My hope is that it would be a tool for evangelization for the rest of the campus."

"My guess is that people who are not Catholic and who would live there are people committed to their Christianity, and would want to live with similar-minded people. My intention would be not to proselytize them, but to incorporate them into the Christian community there," said Fr. Bailey.

The residence halls at both campuses are meant to have all the standard amenities of dorm life, as well as a Catholic chapel for celebration of Mass and reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.

Zerrusen echoed Fr. Bailey's vision that the dorms are to be places welcoming of the Catholic faith, but at the same time balancing this with freedom for students, and not forcing anything upon them.

"We're not forcing anyone to go to church or even forcing them to talk about their faith … we are simply presenting a positive environment where students have the opportunity to make decisions based in sound Christian principle ."

The dorms are meant to have a stricter alcohol policy and visiting hours than other dorms, with dorm rooms separated for the sexes and "obviously" a strict overnight guest policy.

The inspiration for the Housing Fund's work is St. John's Catholic Newman Center, at the University of Illinois.

"St. John's is the model we're going after, and we're just trying to give students a place on campus where if they want to express their faith and live a Catholic life, they have an opportunity to do so," Zerrusen said.

Until now, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been the only secular university with a Catholic housing program.

Mike Hatfield is advancement director at the campus' Newman Center, and told CNA that it has had a chapel and Catholic residence hall on the campus for 85 years.

He said the Newman Center has a chapel and dorm physically connected, all in the middle of the university campus, and has been recently expanded to house 586 students. It has priests and religious on staff, and has 13 different ministry programs.

These programs range from retreats and mission trips, to the Knights of Columbus, a food pantry, and missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The Texas A&M site is planned to accommodate 287 students, with a 300 seat chapel, and the Florida Institute of Technology's residence hall will house 140 students and in the future will host a chapel to be shared with a nearby Catholic high school.