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July, 2019

Happy Birthday to the Pryz

By Richard Wilkinson

Hundreds of people who visited the Pryz on March 10 enjoyed a piece of celebratory cake.

In a tribute to its central role in campus life, the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center was feted with a fifth birthday party, complete with punch and a dozen large sheet cakes decorated with a sugar image of the building's facade. CUA’s Office of University Center, Student Programs and Events (UCSPE) sponsored the March 10 distribution of party refreshments on the building’s second-floor lobby from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Made possible by a gift of more than $10 million from Edward Pryzbyla, B.A. 1925, the Pryz for the first time gave the university a central gathering place in the middle of campus, says Bill Jonas, director of UCSPE. The building also centralized campus dining by replacing dining rooms in three buildings, and brought the university bookstore into the fold of CUA’s university center for the first time.

“It’s an open, inviting space where all kinds of things can happen, whether formal or informal meetings, studying, eating dinner or taking a coffee break," says Jonas.


Among its other benefits, the Pryz has allowed the university’s business of renting out space for conferences to grow, increasing revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars, Jonas says. The Great Room of the building has also given the university a place to host its own large, high-profile events, such as Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming April 17 address to Catholic education leaders, the November 2007 Opus Prize banquet, and the March 2004 political debate between the two alumni, Terry McAuliffe and Ed Gillespie, who then headed up the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, respectively.

Before the Pryz was created, high-profile meetings with more than a few hundred attendees could only be held in the university’s gymnasium, as was the case with Pope John Paul II’s on-campus speech to America’s Catholic university presidents on Oct. 7, 1979. As a more recent example, the New Student Orientation held for freshmen and their parents each August used to be held in the university’s DuFour Center gym, but now takes place in the Great Room of the Pryzbyla Center.

Those who were CUA students both before and after the Pryz was dedicated on March 9, 2003, were asked to assess the impact the building has made on campus life. Katie Acuff, B.A. 2003, now a CUA law student and the university’s associate director of annual giving, says that student life and student organizations have been able to flourish because of the Pryz and its central location on campus. The offices of student organizations are in the Pryz, and Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, B.A. 2001, now a CUA graduate student in social work and the university’s associate campus minister for community service, says the building has given students a gathering place that — unlike the previous university center — is handicapped-accessible, technologically up to date and centrally located.

Faculty say they like the options the Pryz provides, too. William Barbieri, associate professor of religious studies and director of CUA’s Peace and Justice Studies Program, has used the building’s Great Room to hold poetry readings, debates and a teach-in about the Iraq War. “I also find myself going to the Pryz quite often to sit and prepare for class and simultaneously encounter passers-by,” he says. “I particularly like the spaces there where you feel like you’re suspended in mid-air, surrounded by glass, with a good vista and lots of light.”

Following are some of the highlights of the first five years of the Pryz.


Construction of the Pryzbyla Center, in process in 2002.

Dedicating the Pryz on March 9, 2003.

Terry McAuliffe and Ed Gillespie debating in the Great Room on March 18, 2004, with ABC-TV broadcaster George Stephanopoulos in the middle as moderator.

At the Opus Prize award ceremony on Nov. 8, 2007: Brother Constant Goetschalckx, F.C., receives the $1 million prize from CUA's president, Father O'Connell.

Starbucks opened on the third floor in April 2007, and was soon serving 800 customers daily.                  

Freshmen, transfer students and parents attend the New Student Orientation in the Pryz.

The president's annual Christmas party in the Great Room.

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Last Revised 31-Mar-08 11:48 AM.