The All Saints Newman Center still needs another $350,000 to complete the first phase of its "Raise These Walls" campaign. A $25,000 matching grant is available for new pledges through April 27. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

TEMPE — Dozens of Catholics dumped dirt into their church Sunday and no one batted an eye.

It was all part of the “Dirt Bag Drop” at the future altar site for the All Saints Newman Center. The afternoon event, which happened to coincide with Earth Day, offered members a chance to be part of the construction progress beyond pledging funds. It also celebrated the site that holds memories for so many — and will create untold more once the building opens in November.

Members of all ages signed the wall behind the altar. They did the same thing just over a year ago before the walls of the old Newman Center came down.

This time members offered blessings for marriages and children, gratitude for the Dominican priests who spent more than 40 years at the Newman Center and blessings upon all who enter their “home away from home.”

The Newman Center, which sits across the street from Arizona State University, serves thousands of students each year and other local families. Sarah Goode, a local community member, never went to ASU, but understands a Newman Center’s role in campus ministry.

“I remember when I was in college the Catholic community was important to me,” she said.

Her college was three hours from home so she started to attend Mass closer to school at the Newman Center.

“It gave me that sense of home. It was that continuous thread,” Goode said.

Now, a piece of their home will always remain at the Newman Center. Goode and her husband brought dirt from their vegetable garden and placed it on the future altar. Other members followed suit.

Fr. Rob Clements, director, and Fr. John Muir, assistant director, added dirt from places such as Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral — the Mother Church for the diocese — Rome and the Holy Land.

Fr. Clements also poured a small bottle of water from the Jordan River onto the mound. It sat directly in front of a bold “Catholic Newman Center” sign.

“It’s inspiring the strength this community has,” said David Pederson, development director.

He spoke mainly of their endurance to withstand the 106-degree heat and uneven construction site. View photos. The Newman Center community has also shown its strength in the last 10 years as the capital campaign underwent two guiding names — currently “Raise These Walls” — various site designs and four directors.

The soon-to-be resurrected Newman Center is an $8 million project that could have the first phase completed in six months, Pederson said. It will feature an adoration chapel, social hall and 500-seat church.

“There’s still a substantial need for fundraising,” Pederson said.

The campaign needs roughly $350,000 for interior finishing, the social hall and kitchen to complete Phase I. View project brochure. The second phase of the project will provide administrative offices, student ministry space and classrooms, which the University of Mary will share.

Pederson said a lot of his outreach to spread word about the Newman Center’s future is one-on-one.

“We’re continuing to be introduced to new people who may not have been aware of our ministry and our mission and have really taken a liking to it,” he said.

At the site of the future altar, Pederson reminded the small crowd gathered about a matching gift opportunity that ends April 27. An anonymous donor will match any new pledges toward the Raise These Walls campaign up to $25,000. Pledge here.

Meanwhile, the walls at the construction are expected to go higher any day now until they peak at 43 feet. More steel and clear story windows will also be installed. Then concrete should be poured in mid-May.

More photos from the event.