Building a Culture for Christ

John Paul the Great Catholic University celebrates first decade: timely reflections for birthday of namesake


Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it went to press.


John Paul the Great Catholic University ( in Escondido, Calif., will soon celebrate the completion of its first decade of operation, reported Derry Connolly, the university’s president.

The university will graduate its seventh undergraduate class this fall, as well as its fifth graduate class. It will also welcome its ninth class of new students.

It has much of which to be proud, he said, as it marks the “closing of our first chapter.”

The San Diego County university offers undergraduate and graduate programs in communications media, business and theology.

It was initially called New Catholic University, but was renamed for the 264th pontiff at the unanimous decision of its board of trustees upon St. John Paul II’s death in 2005. Given that May 18 is the 95th anniversary of the college’s namesake’s birth, reflecting on the college’s 10th anniversary is timely.

Significant accomplishments in 2015, Connolly said, include receiving Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation, which indicates that it is a quality institution dedicated to self-improvement, and the ordination of two of its students for the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of San Diego.

“We’ve come from having very little to having some amazing facilities,” said Martin Harold, vice president of admissions, who was the first paid staff member who came to the school in 2006. “We’re well on our way to becoming a world-class university.”

The school was founded, he said, in response to Pope John Paul’s call to “re-evangelize the culture,” with its particular focus on training students to work in entertainment and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Harold continued, “Our founders saw a huge opportunity to establish an institution to train students to create stories to draw people to truth, beauty and goodness and use state-of-the-art technology to present that content to society.”

Key founding supporters included Alan Lane, president and CEO of Silvergate Bank, who serves as the school’s chairman of the board of trustees; Paul Colucci, a Carlsbad, Calif., real-estate developer; and Connolly, a mechanical engineer and former professor and administrator at the University of California at San Diego.


‘Same Vision’

A chance visit to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, gave Connolly the idea to found a college faithful to Catholic belief as it relates to John Paul II’s teaching on the West Coast. The San Diego area seemed like an ideal location for the campus, Harold said, because it is “a great entrepreneurial ecosystem,” wasn’t too long of a drive from Hollywood and has a growing video-gaming industry.

The school’s motto is “Impact Culture for Christ,” a motto that motivates its 270 students, said Janisse Flores, 21, a senior in the New Evangelization program from Houston.

As she said, “We all have the same vision: We want to impact the culture for Christ.”

Flores first learned about the school through a Facebook ad entitled “Catholic film school.”

Her degree combines business and theology, which she plans to use in the evangelization field, such as working for a diocese or a lay apostolate:

“I particularly want to evangelize teenage girls, planting a seed to lead them to goodness and virtue. So many young girls today have lost their dignity and have been formed by a secular culture.”

Her years at JP Catholic, as the school is often referred to by students, have given her “spiritual growth and formation,” nourished by daily Mass and confession on the campus, as well as devotional life, such as adoration.

“I’ve received many graces.”

Timmerie Millington, 23, of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., completed her undergraduate degree and is currently working on a master’s in theology.

She has already begun her work in evangelization, working as a chastity and pro-life speaker and co-hosting a new Catholic radio program, “Hearts and Minds,” with Catholic Answers apologist Trent Horn.

The program features current topics in the news, which the pair analyzes through a Catholic lens.

Millington noted, “JP Catholic helped form me as a Catholic so I could take on these issues.”

Millington comes from a strong pro-life background, having worked at a crisis-pregnancy center, engaged in “sidewalk counseling” in front of abortion businesses and participated in 40 Days for Life, in which participants fast and pray to close abortion facilities.

At JP Catholic, she was able to assist in marketing work and be an extra in a student Web series, BUMP+, which follows three women through crisis-pregnancy situations.

It drew both praise and criticism from pro-lifers, but, said Millington, “stirred up a conversation.”

Some of the pluses of the school, she believes, include the housing situation. Instead of dorms and cafeterias, students live in apartments and do their own cooking.

Also, she noted, the majority of the 30 professors are “working professionals,” working full-time jobs in the entertainment industry in Hollywood, for example, and commuting to Escondido to teach classes.

“Many of our faculty have big credits in their industries,” said Harold.

Professor Nick diNapoli, for example, is the founder of Drive Studio and respected for his high-end visual effects in the entertainment industry; Tom Dunn teaches film production and has had a successful career in television; Rob Kirbyson is a noted Hollywood director who teaches cinematography and also directed The Red Line, a 2013 movie written by JP Catholic students.

Chas Baines, 21, a senior media student from Boise, Idaho, launched a branded entertainment business with his best friend in January. They have already landed a dozen clients.

His ambition goes beyond entertainment, however. He wants to one day run for public office so he may put his training in philosophy and theology to good use for the community: “I won’t be a politician, but a public servant.”

He’s grateful to the school for the formation he has received. “My life would not be the same without it. It helped form me as a man and a Catholic.”

He, too, has benefitted from the devotional life at JP Catholic. He described the Catholic environment as protective, “but it’s not sheltering. It forms you in a healthy way.”

Students attend classes year-round and can earn an undergraduate degree in three years. The coursework is rigorous and challenging, said Mia Rohr, a senior film-producing student from Guam. “People here are always busy studying and making movies. JP Catholic is geared to a certain type of student who is highly motivated and wants to impact the culture for Christ.”

Rohr hopes to work for a studio when she graduates this fall.

One of the advantages of being at JP Catholic, she noted, is that students can begin making movies just a few months after arriving at the school.

Many better-known film schools, she said, don’t allow students to begin making movies until their junior year.


Bright Future

John Paul the Great Catholic University will continue to grow its student body, Harold said, as well as add to its facilities on campus.

Prospective students are encouraged to visit the university’s website; potential supporters can also see the school’s plans for future growth.

As Harold put it, “Universities are big enterprises. We started with very little, and we’ve come a tremendous way. And we continue to be motivated by Pope John Paul’s call to the New Evangelization, as well as fulfilling our mission: impacting the culture for Christ.”

Jim Graves writes from

Newport Beach, California.