Catholics plan Mather university

The Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic congregation of priests active in 20 countries, plans to create a private Catholic university at two locations in the Sacramento region.

The proposal, which they’d call the University of Sacramento, is the latest of several higher education ventures to target the capital area.

The group plans to open a graduate school of education by 2005, followed by a 250-acre, full-service residential campus in 2007 that would ultimately have 7,000 students plus 800 faculty members and other employees. A feasibility study for a bioethics institute is also under way.

The Legion is talking with Sacramento county and city officials about buying land to build the campus at Mather Field, and leasing at least 55,000 square feet in downtown or midtown Sacramento for a graduate school of education.

The project is so enticing that officials here are mulling special efforts on a real estate deal to land the school.

The first full Legion university slated for the United States, the project could be a $1.2 billion economic bonanza for the area. Construction alone is expected to cost upwards of $350 million, with ripple effects of a large local payroll and spending in the community by faculty, staff and students.

The Legion raises about $20 million a year to cover its programs. It would also seek to raise money locally.

Area is rich in Catholics: “It is a massive project. We’ve been talking to the Legion for some months now and hope they can build the campus at Mather,” said county economic development director Paul Hahn. “It’s a good use the community needs. From an economic standpoint, we lack a private university and the array of talent it attracts.”

The Legion is looking for a break on the land in exchange, Hahn said. “We need to put together the deal points. It’s no mystery the county is very interested and willing to do some things we haven’t done for a while.”

The pitch is one of three private university proposals to surface in recent months.

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