John Paul the Great Catholic University, which opened two and a half years ago in the heart of downtown Escondido, late last year completed a purchase that will allow it to double the size of its campus, adding 30,000 square feet on 1.5 acres.
It purchased the old Johnson furniture building located at 131 S. Broadway and the old Center City High School Building at 236 S. Maple (corner of Maple & 3rd). Both buildings have been vacant for several years.
The purchase, made possible by the donation of $1.5 million by Terry & Barbara Caster, owners of A-1 Self Storage, will enable the Catholic university to add a large chapel and classrooms for sound stages, editing suites, a screening room, acting and computer labs, a performance stage and a parking lot.
The university will be raising more money to rehabilitate the buildings. Once they are in service, in about two or three years, they are expected to fulfill the expansion needs of the university, which currently has about 300 students with the goal of having 1,200 in about ten years. They expect to grow 10-14% each year. ”We’re growing at a good clip,” observed Dr. Derry Connolly, founding president.
The city of Escondido “has been very welcoming” to the university’s plans, says Dr. Connolly. “We like the city of Escondido,” he told The Times Advocate, and the city obviously likes the university, and the way it fits into the city’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area. Escondido Mayor Sam Abed praised the university in his annual State of the City address in January, noting that it was a partner with the city in rehabilitating the downtown.
“We’re having a huge positive impact on the revitalization of downtown Escondido,” said Dr. Connolly. “Having hundreds of polite young people wandering around the area is a very positive thing. People like to have the feeling of safety and security when they are walking downtown. That’s a significant impact.”
He added, “We like doing business downtown. The great thing about the downtown is the great people who own businesses there. They are all good people.”
Another way that the university impacts Escondido’s economy is by renting student apartmentsat Latitude33, the upscale development at the corner of Washington & Centre City Parkway. “I think we are a huge benefit to Latitude33” said Connolly.
John Paul the Great Catholic University is named after the recently canonized Pope John Paul II. The university is nine years old and started off in an industrial park in Scripps Ranch, before acquiring the building formerly occupied by the Mingei Gallery in Escondido, as well as other empty buildings in the area, such as the old bank building adjacent to Maple Plaza.
The university offers degrees in three areas, theology, entertainment media, and business. It offers an MBA in film producing and an MA in theology, and BS’s in communications media and business.
The university was the brainchild of Dr. Derry Connolly, president, a native of Ireland with a soft brogue and a quiet manner, who immigrated in 1973 and who founded the university as an act of faith. He was an engineering professor at UCSD when his daughter told him about attending a Steubenville youth gathering and being impressed by the fervor and faith of the young people.
It was “put in his heart,” to start a Catholic university that would have a maximum impact on the arts, specifically the art of film. He started on a shoestring budget with just a few backers, and some of his own money. The first year he had 30 freshmen and no campus.
The university has chosen to try to have an impact in an art form that is dominated by the secular, and often by those actively hostile to religion. To provide students an education so that they can become film directors, producers, editors in film, video gaming and business entrepreneurs.
The university has produced two full- length feature films, “Red Line,” produced in 2013, a film that chronicles the tale of several people aboard a subway that is brought to a stop by a collapsing tunnel, and “Army Dog” produced in 2015, which tells the story of an army sergeant and his bomb-sniffing dog who return from a long deployment in Afghanistan.
You’ll find more information about John Paul the Great Catholic University by visiting www.jpcatholic.com/