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California Catholic Media School . . . Successfully Settles Into Expanded New Location

December 21, 2014 Frontpage No Comments



ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Making its first visit to the new location of John Paul the Great Catholic University, The Wanderer stepped into the campus eucharistic adoration chapel, with a few students praying amid seating for about two dozen people. Is this where daily Mass is offered?
Not at all, replied Derry Connolly, Ph.D., president of the school since its inception as an idea in 2003, as he showed off the campus on December 12. It occupies a total of 40,000 square feet in four buildings along this Southern California city’s Grand Avenue downtown.
“The good news is we would never have only 25 people for Mass,” Connolly said, adding that the more likely attendance would be about 80, so they’d gather in a larger classroom for the service.
That would be a significant portion of the actively religious, media-conscious student body, which has grown to about 280 people. The school relocated in 2013 to this hospitable small city about 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego.
The 2010 census put Escondido’s population at nearly 144,000 people living amid coastal hills, with the Pacific Ocean about 18 miles to the west.
“John Paul the Great Catholic University is a massive undertaking — building a 21st Century institution to train students to use contemporary media to impact culture for Christ,” a message from Connolly at the school’s website says (
“Born as a response to the call of Pope St. John Paul the Great, JPCatholic is just hitting its stride as it nears the completion of its first decade.
“On October 1, 2014, we began our ninth year, with 81 new undergraduate and 54 new graduate students,” his message continued. “Students come to acquire a professional competence in entertainment media, business, and Biblical theology on a campus alive in Christ, and graduate ready to impact culture for Christ. We began our second year on our Escondido campus. Creative media students are very much at home in the quaint historic downtown.”
John Paul the Great originally opened its doors to 30 students interested in communications media, with a concentration in entertainment media, and business, with a concentration in entrepreneurial business. It occupied about a half-floor, 4,400 square feet, on the second story of a business-park building in northern San Diego’s Scripps Ranch neighborhood.
The school gradually expanded to 13,000 square feet on both floors of the structure before moving north to Escondido last year, seeking new horizons and much more space to accommodate its steady growth.
Connolly’s longtime attitude is that God will provide and guide.
The new location has a 1,920-square-foot sound stage intended for video production, 50 percent larger in footage than the sound stage painstakingly constructed at the previous Scripps Ranch campus.
However, when a donor offered the Escondido school $200,000 worth of television equipment, Connolly said, the current sound stage was re-envisioned as a television studio, and he has to find another building for a sound stage for videos and actors.
Where is that fifth building? “It’s like we have a new conversation with God” to answer that question, Connolly told The Wanderer as he provided the tour on a chilly afternoon.
What kind of television shows would be produced? “Good question. Don’t know,” Connolly replied. However, he said, if an outside company wanted to use the facility, it would have to agree to use John Paul the Great students in the work.
Asked if he felt the construction of the previous sound stage at Scripps Ranch had been wasted effort, because it was used for only a few years, Connolly shrugged it off. “You do what you need to do,” he said.
Never intended to be a retreat from the world but a place where its students engage the world in order to restore the culture and evangelize for Christ, the Escondido campus is an improvement because students walk straight from classrooms onto city streets, where they even may shoot film projects.
The previous Scripps Ranch building was surrounded by a parking lot, beyond which were other companies’ business buildings surrounded by parking lots.
The four buildings here on Grand Avenue are the two-story main classroom structure, which previously was a museum, a two-story administration building which will add a student center on the first floor, a faculty office building, and a student-recruiting office.
A worker in the recruiting office told The Wanderer that a passerby may walk right in the door to inquire about the school — something impossible at the previous location.
School officials who previously had offices about the size of a couple of cubicles have more space to receive visitors now. The students’ film-editing work stations have doubled in number, from 10 at Scripps Ranch to 20 here.
“It’s really interesting to be in a city where you know everybody,” Connolly said — the city councilmen, the police chief, the mayor at City Hall only a block away. “I never knew the difference between a small city and a big city until we came here. Everything’s accessible,” and he knows who to talk to about any problems.
Escondido hoped that giving the school zoning permission to be downtown in existing structures would bring a new feeling of creativity and energy with its students and their projects. “It’s a small, welcoming community that’s happy to have us here,” Connolly said.
The city likes the idea that people walking by on Grand Avenue can look through the classroom building’s front door to see the lighted equipment in the control room for the sound stage, he said.
About 150 of the students live a short walk away in the school’s apartment housing, Connolly said, and the rest are San Diego-area commuters.
The recruiting office continually tries to bring in more students, Connolly said. “To get 100, we probably need to go to 20,000” prospects all around the nation.
Connolly said John Paul the Great is nearing the end of its initial accrediting process with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), “which is huge” — a nine-year process with five major steps.
The school website says, “The accreditation process assists institutions, like JPCatholic, in developing and sustaining effective educational programs and assures the educational community and the general public that high standards of quality and effectiveness have been met.”
“Now we’re sitting, waiting, twiddling our thumbs” in hopes of a favorable decision by WASC, Connolly said. Accreditation “opens the door to a lot of funding [assistance] for students.”
Some students took a few moments to speak with The Wanderer as the academic quarter came to a close in mid-December.
A nun from Nigeria studying at the school, Sr. Priscilla Aliu, SND, pursuing an MBA in film producing, said that her superiors of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur gave her permission to attend.
“I’m really blessed to be here,” she said. “[John Paul the Great] has offered me what I have not had before, in creativity in film producing. It gives me hope I can do much more with my talent and my vocation.”
Another MBA film-production student, Ritsy George, wants to use her knowledge to work in Christian ministries. An Indian citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia, she said she came to the United States in 2003 and became a U.S. citizen.
George said she learned about John Paul the Great from seeing an advertisement at EWTN when she lived in Philadelphia.
Freshman Jason Cuevas, from nearby Valley Center, Calif., told The Wanderer, “I knew I had to go here. . . . They have an awesome business program. . . . I want to be an entrepreneur.”
Cuevas said he’d thought his Scripture classes “would be kind of a drag,” but theology and Scripture professor Michael Barber is a great teacher: “I just learn so much every class. . . . I enjoy taking his tests. . . . I’ve become a better student.”

In A Catholic Place

Logan Baxter, a freshman from Philadelphia, is majoring in video-game design and enjoys playing the games.
“I always wanted to be in California. . . . It’s a lot sunnier than in Philadelphia,” Baxter said. “It’s beautiful out here. You also can see stars” in the sky, unlike at his smoggy home city.
As for the school’s spiritual offerings, “I’m pretty solid in my faith and I felt I wanted to be in a Catholic place,” with daily Mass and Confession available, he said, adding that rosary every night in the apartments’ common room is nice.
Freshman Annie Buchheit, of Silverton, Ore., is majoring in acting.
“I really enjoy some of the theology classes” and daily Mass, she said, as well as the perspective offered in the classes.
One class, entitled “Intellectual Life and Virtue,” would be hard to imagine as an offering “at a normal university,” Buchheit said.
With a possible future in the entertainment industry, “Me and my friends, we watch a lot of movies” at the student apartments, she said.

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