b Pryzbyla Center: A Dream Come True at Catholic U. -b

Four years ago, few Catholic University students knew who or what "Pryzbyla" was, or why the name adorned plaques outside Cardinal Hall and the plaza between Shahan and Keane Halls, let alone how to pronounce it. The questions were answered during the spring semester of 2000. Students adorned in red shirts saying, "Thank you, Eddie" and red buttons reading, "Meet Me at the Pryz," met a man, small in stature, but full of generosity for his alma mater. At the groundbreaking for the center in 2000, a news release reported, Edward J. Pryzbyla said, "At last. Somebody pinch me to make sure I’m not dreaming." Thanks to the late Pryzbyla, Catholic University has opened a University Center at the heart of the Northeast Washington campus. The Pryzbyla Center was formally dedicated, as the 55th building on campus, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 10, the 116th anniversary of the founding of the university as authorized by Pope Leo XIII. "CUA has come of age," said University President Father David M. O’Connell. "All of us gathered here today should feel great pride, as we give thanks to God that at the Catholic University of America, dreams do come true." Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chancellor of the university, assisted Father O’Connell in blessing the new center. "Thank God for this masterwork that is such a great jewel, and will always be, in the diadem of the university," he said. Also present to assist in the ceremony were Catholic U. past-president Brother Patrick Ellis, D.C. Council Member Vincent B. Orange (D-Ward 5), several members of the board of trustees and Margaret Higgins, former dean of students and chairperson of the Pryzbyla committee. Beverly Lynch, the wife of Pryzbyla’s late great-nephew, was also in attendance with her two daughters, Sarah and Rebecca. Molly Bryson was one of many students who began the push for a student union in the early ’90s. She proudly attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony wearing a "Union Yes" button she first wore over 10 years ago. She and a group of friends were instrumental in organizing activities to promote the cause for a central "living room" at Catholic U. The new center includes nine meeting rooms and a Great Room that is able to seat 450 for a meal, and 800 for lectures and can also serve as a ballroom or performance venue; lounges enclosed with windows; a dining hall and food court; a two-story bookstore, 30 percent larger than the previous facility housed in the basement of the Crough Center; a convenience store; offices for several campus administrative departments and 31 student organizations; offices for Sodexho dining services; and computer and audio-visual technology, including wireless internet accessibility, throughout the facility. With the addition of the new university center to the campus, offices and departments are in the process of playing a game of musical chairs to find their new homes. Cardinal Hall will be the new home of the admissions and institutional advancement departments that were formerly in McMahon Hall. North Dining Hall has also closed and will be renovated to house Health Services and a wellness center, including gym facilities. The dining facilities in Caldwell Hall and the law school have also been closed. Steve Rubis, a Catholic U. senior and treasury vice president of the undergraduate student government, said that the Pryzbyla Center is "the heart of the campus. Just like the heart of a body, everything branches out from the center. Everything has been magnetized and drawn to the Pryz." The Pryzbyla Center follows what has become a Catholic U. architectural tradition of each building reflecting the time it was built instead of being designed to blend in with the other buildings. "With its exposed structure, light-filled atrium and spacious interior, the new Pryzbyla Center — designed by one of the country’s leading architectural firms (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) — is an exciting and major architectural addition to the university," Gregory K. Hunt, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, said in a press release. Desi Fernandez, a senior and president of the undergraduate student government, said that the center provides a "loom" to unite the campus and its movements. "By being glass, you can see the movements inside the building, and inside the building, you can see across campus." Dr. Lawrence Poos, dean of the school of arts and sciences, said the view from the upper-floor of the center is "quite magical" at sunset. From one side of the building the two oldest buildings on campus are visible, McMahon and Caldwell Halls, and from the other side the law school can be seen, the newest academic building on campus. Poos said the facilities have improved the quality of life on campus. He has used the facilities for student recruitment and said "it’s so much better than anything we’ve used before." Pryzbyla graduated from Catholic U. with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy in 1925 and earned an honorary doctorate from the university in 1995. He was the founder of Edwards Insurance Agency and Edwards Enterprises, Inc. in his hometown of Chicopee, Mass. Pryzbyla, Catholic U.’s most generous individual benefactor, donated over $10 million for the construction of the $22 million university center. The remainder of the funds were raised through revenue bonds. Aside from the donation to the university center, Pryzbyla has donated hundreds of trees and other plants to beautify the campus. He donated the funds to create Pryzbyla Plaza and the arbor outside University Center East. He also left an endowment for scholarships to students of Polish descent, and to support campus beautification and upkeep. To the dismay of the Catholic U. community, Pryzbyla died Nov. 27, 2000, two years before he would see his contributions to the campus come to fruition. Susan Pervi, vice-president for student life, often accompanied Pryzbyla on his twice-yearly campus tours. She met him for the first time in the fall of 1987 on the steps of McMahon. She greeted him as "Mr. Pryzbyla" and he said, "Oh heck, call me Eddie. But here’s your first test of the morning, spell my last name." Pervi said Pryzbyla used his many interactions with the administration to "teach us, by example, how to be better role models for students and alumni." On his tour, Pryzbyla said to Pervi, "I want you to promise to help me show the students and staff how to love and care for this campus as much as I do." "Eddie was so proud to be a CUA student and alumnus," Pervi said. "He loved this institution unconditionally, and his generosity touched the entire community, but especially the students. Eddie was a man of commitment and action, for the large and small things that continue to make a difference for the Catholic University community he loved so dearly." In the benediction, Franciscan Father Robert Schlageter, director of campus ministry and university chaplain, said, "We’re so grateful for Eddie who made this day possible. He was a reminder of how one generous person can touch the lives of so many." But it is not only through the Pryzbyla Center and the millions of dollars that he gave to the university that causes everyone to love and admire the little man from Chicopee. Pryzbyla’s legacy is not composed of a building and money, but in the tremendous example he set for everyone in the Catholic U. family. Victor Nakas, executive director of public affairs, said "He will forever be remembered for his love for his alma mater and his dedication to its future." "Through his colorful interactions and spirited homecomings," said Pervi, "Eddie taught us to pause from our everyday responsibilities to appreciate and respect what we have as a campus; to come together as a community; to make a difference in people’s lives and to strive for excellence when doing so; and to always approach life with a spirit of confidence and hope."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2003