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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Belmont Abbey tops $100M goal, sets new mark at $150M

Belmont Abbey College announced it has hit its $100 million capital campaign target early and has now set a new goal of raising $150 million by the college’s 150th anniversary in 2026.

The additional $50 million will go toward three main projects:

  • $15 million to establish 10 endowed chairs across different academic programs;
  • $15 million to provide 150 scholarships for the Honors College; and
  • $20 million to build a monastery for the Benedictine monks whose order started the college and live on campus.

Belmont Abbey, located about 10 miles west of Charlotte, unveiled its $100 million campaign last February. More than half that original total – $55 million – was to boost the college’s endowment and reduce – eventually eliminating – federal student aid, as well as provide other financial resources.

Abbot Placid Solari speaks with Gastonia Mayor Richard Franks on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, on the campus of Belmont Abbey College.

The remaining money was to fund new academic programs, especially in nursing, public policy and finance, and fund career and family programs aimed at promoting religious freedom.

At the time, leaders at North Carolina’s only Catholic college reported they’d already raised $73 million toward that goal, fueled in part by 10 large gifts ranging from $1 million to $12 million. Included in that amount was a $10 million gift from the monks who live on campus.

In the last year, the college received more than 5,600 donations, pushing it over the $100 million goal more than two years early, says President Bill Thierfelder.

The private college also received $9 million toward its goal from last year’s state budget, money which will go toward building a new performing arts center on campus in the next two years. More than 14,500 donors have already contributed to the overall campaign, with 85% being first-time donors, according to the college.

“We have achieved so much in less than a year, and there is still more the Abbey can accomplish with such generous benefactors,” says Phil Brach, a vice president at the college.

Campaign funds have already supported a $10 million science lab and nursing center and a $4 million dining hall expansion. The college also spent $5 million on the Belmont House, located near the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The Belmont House is a venue to bring people of faith and government together and has a mission to “restore civil society and reclaim the rights of people of faith in the public square.”

Belmont Abbey has about 1,600 students and has no plans to add more than 200 students total to its undergraduate enrollment, Theirfelder says. Many of its graduate level courses are offered online, so they are not limited by space on the campus. About 1,000 students live on campus. The college opened two, 155-bed residences halls in September 2023, each costing about $26 million. The residence halls were not part of the current capital campaign.

The college plans for the scholarship money to be a revolving fund. “We’re going to encourage the recipients of these scholarships to engage in a voluntary covenant where they will pay it forward after they leave,” says Brach. “That’s a way to make a college education sustainable.”

Fourteen monks now live at the monastery on campus. Built with bricks handmade by former monks on campus, the building no longer meets the needs of the religious group. The three-story building, with a basement, offers the monks little privacy and noise from nearby I-85 makes it unsuitable for a “group of men where silence is key to a life of prayer,” says Brach.

The needs of the college and its students will come before a new monastery is built, says Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari, who serves as chancellor and oversees the community of Benedictine monks on campus whose predecessors started the college in 1876.

“The monastery is a place where we will live while here,” says Solari, who has been a monk there since 1974. “In our minds, the education that is provided to students is something that will last for eternity.”

Once a new monastery is built, the college will renovate the current 60,000-square-foot monastery and use it for office space and classrooms, says Thierfelder, who has been at the college for 20 years.

Early contributors to the campaign include:

  • Belmont native Howard “Humpy” Wheeler, former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, gave $1 million to the campaign. His father, Humpy Wheeler Sr., was a former athletic director at Belmont Abbey College.
  • Dr. Peter Wittenberg and his wife, Ann, gave $1.6 million. Wittenberg is a pathologist in Gastonia.
  • The estate of Ben Sargent, a member of the Belmont Abbey Class of 1940, gave $3.5 million.
  • An anonymous $6 million gift from the parents of a Belmont Abbey College graduate.
  • Retired Lincoln Financial executive Chuck Cornelio gave $7.5 million.
  • A “friend” of the college gave $10 million, and a graduate who wanted to remain anonymous gave $12 million.
  • Pharmaceutical company executive George Horner, a 1966 Abbey graduate, gave $7 million.
  • James Miller, who received an honorary doctorate of law degree from Belmont Abbey College in 2020, gave $1 million.

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