Newman Centers offer unique opportunity for college students

By: Madison McClellan, Vinny Ramundo, and Ellie White

Colleges are communities filled with people of many backgrounds, diversities, and religions.  Catholic Newman Centers are present and active on many campuses nationwide.  These are parishes that function primarily as a place for Catholic students to continue their faith journey together in welcoming, vibrant communities centered in Christ and His mission.

The Newman Connection is “a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a national support structure and unified brand to Catholic Ministry,” according to their  .  They build Newman Centers across the country at non-Catholic universities.  They currently are on about 400 campuses across the United States.  In 2013 about 25,000 people used the Newman Connection to locate a Catholic presence on their college campus.

The first Newman Club was founded in 1888 at Oxford, and the first Newman center was established in 1893 at the University of Pennsylvania.

The clubs/centers were named in the honor of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a Catholic Cardinal known for his work with college students.  The centers were based on his writing, The Idea of a University, where he promoted the idea of establishments for Catholic students attending non-religious/secular universities.  The centers give students the unique ability to connect to their Catholic faith while studying on campuses that are not associated with the Church.

Two McNicholas teachers have been longtime members of University of Cincinnati Newman Center, St. Monica-St. George.  Theology Department Chair Sam Roflow joined St. Monica-St. George in 1978 when he was a student at Xavier University.  At the time, the parish was just St. George; it was combined with St. Monica after the building went into disrepair.

“I was looking for a parish when I went to college, and I felt like I was a pretty good Christian, but I don’t know if I was a good Catholic…because the parishes I went to didn’t feel meaningful. They were designed for adults and families, and they never really got around to talking about the kind of things I was reading. My wife said come on over to UC, and I went over and it was just awesome because at their core they were practicing Christianity. I’ve been going there ever since.  My wife and I were married there, my kids were baptized there… grandkid was baptized there,” Roflow said.

Theology teacher Teresa Davis joined St. Monica-St. George in 2011 after the passing of her mother.  “I’ve only belonged to three parishes in my life. My brother was already a part of St. Monica-St. George, and then my mom passed away and I went there the following Sunday.  I had already known Father Al because of his help with some family issues, and I’ve always loved the Franciscan ideology…they have always fleshed out the works of Jesus.”

Both Davis and Roflow believe that McNicholas students should check out Newman Centers for many reasons.  Roflow said, “When you go to Monica-George, you see young people, old people, you see students, you see ethnic folks from the neighborhood, professors, rich and poor, gay and straight, people like us [Davis and me] that come from way out here; everybody wants to be there.”

“I joined after my life totally changed, and I walked right in and they gave me comfort and a home. When you lose your parent, your whole life changes… I walked in there and I was given a seat and welcomed. My spirituality has been challenged, which doesn’t often happen in parishes, and I have grown,” Davis said.

Most of all students should join to continue their faith in a welcoming environment. “The students aren’t there because their mom is making them. They’re there because they want to be there, because they feel welcomed,” Roflow said.

“Graduation from McNick does not mean graduation from your faith development. St. Monica-St. George is a good place to join, because you’re surrounded by kind people and different people you can learn from,” Davis said.

Tony Losekamp, McNicholas Class of 2013, was also was active in his Newman Center, St. Thomas More, at The Ohio State University.  “I would go to the Newman Center probably at least 4 times a week and as many as 7 times.  There was a student lounge where you could study and they supplied snacks and sometimes meals for free,” Losekamp said.

Losekamp became involved during his first semester in Bible Studies and by his second year began to lead the Bible Studies. He also attended and led retreats almost every semester.  “In college, no one really makes you do anything, and you have to learn responsibility quickly. No parent is going to make you get out of bed and force you to Mass.  It is an important moment for every Catholic because it is the moment that you decide to make your parents’ faith your own.  Making the decision to remain Catholic by attending Mass every Sunday and receiving the sacraments is one that will shape the rest of a student’s life.  That is exactly what happened to me.  I had to make the decision to go to Mass when no one else made me.  My parents weren’t making me.  My pastor wasn’t making me.  My professors weren’t making me.  It was completely my decision to give a yes to the Lord.  It really matured my faith because it became my responsibility to attend Mass, grow in my faith, and live it out every day in the classroom and on campus,” Losekamp said.

Newman Centers are also a great place to reach out to those with common interests.  “The friends that I have stayed in contact with since college are the ones I met in the Newman Center and lived with in the households,” Losekamp said.

“What I found at the St. Thomas More Newman Center and Saint Paul’s Outreach Household Program was the affirmation of who I was as a man created in the image of God and adopted in the waters of Baptism.”  Losekamp added, “As Catholics we aren’t always going to have the most popular teachings nor will we always be accepted because of the truth that we proclaim.  It is a truth that everyone needs to hear even when they don’t want to hear it. We will always have the truth of the worth of a human person. When everyone else has abandoned them, the Catholic Church will be there to welcome them back as a man or women made in the image of God. That is why Newman Centers are so important and that is why I am so grateful for my experience at Ohio State University.”

English Department Chairperson and Journalism teacher Angie Noble was raised Methodist and in a local nondenominational church but “did a lot of church hopping.”  She said, “I just felt like there was not structure in my early days of religion in those formative years. When I was really young, I had been to Catholic Mass a few times with my mom’s best friend, so I had an idea of what a Catholic Church would be like. It wasn’t until my boyfriend’s mom invited me to join them at mass that I started going regularly, and I really enjoyed it.  I liked the structure of it.  I liked the homily, the community — I just really started falling in love with the Catholic Church and with what they believed and with Catholic Social Teachings. By the time I got to college I had probably been going back and forth between my nondenominational church and the local Catholic church for about two years.”

When Noble arrived on campus at Bowling Green State University, many of the people she met had been raised Catholic in Cleveland.

Her friend Keli, who would later become her Godmother, introduced her to St. Thomas More, the Newman Center at BGSU.  “The community was even greater there.  It was a six o’clock Sunday night mass which became the mass that I pretty much went to every week because it was just a great way to end the weekend and start the week.  It just gave me some peace,” Noble said.

Speaking of the atmosphere at the Newman Center, Noble said, “You had the Catholic students and the community members that were there.  They played live music, the seats were half-chairs, half-pews. I just felt like it was a come as you are, God wants you here and wherever you are in your life, you’re welcome here, and I miss that.”

Noble and her roommate, Keli would continue to walk to asms on Sunday nights.  During one of the walks, Keli asked, “If you love it so much, why don’t you convert?”  Noble said she had never really given it much thought, even though she liked going to mass and partook in the Mass with the exception of receiving communion. Ironically, that very night, the priest, Fr. Herb Weber, said that they were starting RCIA classes for anyone interested in becoming Catholic.  “I felt like I was already friends with the priests… so after church I went up and talked to Fr. Herb about it and I said, ‘What if I come to the classes but then I decide I’m not ready,’ because honestly I was worried about what my family would say.”  He said, “Absolutely come, we’d love to have you.”

“I just didn’t stop,” Noble said, “I went to RCIA and continued with the process. I finally felt some peace.  I felt that I was making a decision that would not only affect my life, but so many others.  Raising my children Catholic is a really cool thing for me.”  Noble became Catholic during her junior year in 1994.

“I laugh and say if you would’ve told me 30 years ago that I would be so Catholic and that I would have converted and made this huge religious change in my life, teaching at a Catholic school, raising my children in the Catholic faith… I would have told you as a 15-year-old that you are crazy,” Noble said.

For seniors who are about to make the transition to being college freshmen, Noble advises getting involved in campus Newman Centers.  “They still offer Kairos and great programs, but even if you’re not doing that, just to go somewhere to feel like you’re in this community where you truly belong and people truly care about you…You already have a relationship with the Church and with God… and so going to the Newman Center and just feeling that is just something that I think you need… I love the Newman Centers.”

newman center
According to Davis, St. Monica-St. George, the Newman Center at UC, celebrates all parishioners who are consecrated and ordained. Sr. Jeanne Masterson, a Sr. of St. Joseph took part in the Religious Life Annual Brunch at the parish hall next door to the church.

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