Dozens of people filled the sidewalk along Guadalupe Street with applause Sunday morning as Rev. Fr. Charles Kullman cut a ribbon to celebrate the partial renovation of St. Austin Catholic Parish.
The new structures include an entrance, lobby, nursery and ADA-compliant restroom. They are the result of a three-year, 5.2-million dollar project funded by churchgoers and sponsors, said Kelly Tarrant, vice-chair of the Pastoral Council and UT alumna. Tarrant said that after many decades the crumbling stone walls facing Guadalupe became unsafe and needed to be replaced.
“When we started pulling some bricks off, we noticed the whole thing needed to come down,” Tarrant said. “This was a great opportunity for us to be able to showcase ourselves back on the Drag because we have been here for about 100 years.”
St. Austin Catholic Parish has been a popular church for UT students and faculty since its founding in 1908, said Kullman, the head pastor at the church.
“We have people who went to UT, got their degree, moved someplace else but still come back here for mass on Sunday,” Kullman said.
Special education graduate student Mara Nelson first attended St. Austin’s when she began attending UT last year. Nelson said the welcoming atmosphere of the church is what made her return every weekend.
“Every time I attended, people who I didn’t know were excited to talk with me at the dinner after the 5:30 mass,” Nelson said.
Jeff Langham is the director of architecture for Sixthriver Architects, the company that designed the renovations. Langham said the use of lighting, space and glass creates an open and inviting entrance for disabled individuals and newcomers. Disabled individuals can now more easily access the pews, restrooms and nursery.
Langham said he hopes the new entrance will attract UT students and other Austinites who previously could not recognize or readily access the church.
“With the building in the condition that it was in with the closed doors, (students) didn’t actually know what was here,” Langham said. “Students now can see, ‘Oh! This is a church.’”
Austinite Christopher Kennedy joined St. Austin when he came to UT in 1984. Kennedy said the church has always been a consistent part of Guadalupe Street and the UT community.
“This is our anchored home,” Kennedy said. “We want to serve the Catholic student population of the University. It’s always been a consistent, ‘We’re always here for them.’”