Tuesday, September 4, 2012

(93) The Newman Club (Center) A Catholic Presence on the Secular Campus

The Kent State University Newman Center Parish chapel, offices, and grounds shortly after it was built in 1962. On September 16 the parish community, former members, and friends celebrate its 50th anniversary of its dedication (see http://www.kentnewmancenterparish.org/.  I (Ph.D. Operations Management 1994) met my future wife, Jadwiga (Jaga) (BSN Nursing 1988) there at daily Mass. We were also married there by my cousin, Fr. Thomas Loya at a Nuptial Mass in the Byzantine Rite on August 13, 1988 and three of our four children were baptized there.  Fr. Loya said Mass for Byzantine Catholic students in the basement every Sunday evening.  Since the Orthodox are so close to Catholicism except for the recognition of Papal authority, he allowed a student from Greece to fully participate.  The Newman Center was very much part of our lives during our studies at Kent State University.

          A Catholic student at a secular college or university, must confront many threats to his/her faith. As with any risk, there is potential gain and potential loss. The student may graduate a stronger Catholic than ever as s/he learns more about the faith while defending it. Or the student can graduate as a fallen away Catholic......a convert to a Protestant sect, a lax cafeteria Catholic, one indifferent to any faith, or an outright agnostic or atheist under the strong influence of secular humanism.

        Threats to the Faith on the Secular Campus. Philosophy, Ethics, and History courses are notorious as secular authors often rewrite history to suit their anti-Catholic bias. When that happens Catholic students should ask knowledgeable Catholics and do some research on their own. Dr. Thomas E. Woods, a University of Columbia PhD, wrote an excellent book, “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization”.
        A kid straight out of high school is now “free” of his parents dragging him to Mass. Nobody will hound him or her about the Sunday obligation. Nobody talks about Religion except some aggressive Evangelical Protestants out to make converts. So s/he misses on occasion, sleeping off a hangover after a Saturday night party. Their secular knowledge grows while their knowledge of the Faith stays at the level of CCD 8th or 9th grade. In comparison, Church teaching seems like “kids stuff” and they lose their faith or they simply drift.  In my years in higher education as a professor and Newman Club adviser, I’ve seen so many students drift or slide into indifference as they neglect their faith and become prey to many spiritual dangers.

        Rachel Christiansen took the risk and won. Her Catholic faith became more firmly entrenched than ever as a member at the University of Nebraska (main campus) Newman Club, the Catholic organization on campus, one of the top groups in the entire country. When a professor attacks our faith, she's right there to defend it, sitting in the middle center where the instructor can't miss her raised hand. The University of Illinois also has an excellent Newman Center program.  About 200 students attend daily Mass and it has produced over 50 priests.There's a TV program, “Catholicism on Campus” on EWTN or on line at www.ewtn.com Friday nights at 9 pm Eastern.

      Most secular campuses do have a Catholic presence to nurture the Faith through a Newman Center, Newman Club, a Catholic Student Center, or a Catholic Student Association as at Kent State. The first Newman Club was founded at Oxford in 1888 and in the United States in 1893.  Some larger secular campuses even have a couple of young Catholic missionaries, sponsored by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students – www.focus.org), who work full time to make friends with drifting Catholic students and others to bring them to the Church through the Catholic Student Center or Newman Club. 

     Generally, a full time pastor and a staff of nuns and/or layman run the Newman Center while the Newman Club is student led with a priest as Chaplain. A large university may have both, while a smaller institution may only have a Newman Club. In the latter case, the students would attend Sunday Mass at the nearest parish unless the Chaplain can say another Mass on campus. The student of course is free to take advantage of the Catholic presence or simply be oblivious to it.

        However, some Catholic Newman Clubs and Catholic Newman Centers are very liberal with way out thinking and practices that deviate from the Magisterium of the Church, especially regarding Catholic teaching on morality and liturgical practices. True, some traditional Catholic colleges that have lost their original mission are also that way. One should consult the “Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College” (see www.thenewmanguide.com). Thus the strong Catholic student may have to be on the alert and defend the Faith even in an apparently Catholic environment or s/he can simply drift.

        The objectives of the Newman Club is to nurture and strengthen the Faith despite the ever present threats.......to help the student grow in the Faith and in every way through social, educational, and spiritual activities. That is according to a Newman Club flyer to:

-Have Fun – Social Activities that you want....... that you initiate, organize and lead. Make new friends who have more in common with you.

-Learn more about the Bible & your faith. Know it well or lose it. Know what you're talking about in conversation. Discuss with experts and your friends current hot issues that have moral components. Don't let your knowledge of the faith remain at the juvenile level of CCD and lag far behind your secular knowledge.

-Grow spiritually & grow intellectually. Find meaning in life & how to serve God in your career. Become closer to Him. Grow in your love of God and His people......each and every one of them.

       There is so much to do, but that depends upon you, your time, your creativity and your energy.

A vibrant Sunday Mass at the St. Thomas More Newman Center at the Ohio State University in Columbus for students, faculty, staff, and their families.  (See www.buckeyecatholic.com.  Simply google Newman Center and the university.  Simply google Newman Center and the name of the secular university.

            Activities. There are many possibilities which the individual Newman Club members can choose or create. They may include the following and more: 

< Free wheeling informal discussions on anything the members would like to talk about as questions      of faith, current issues with moral components, any question a member might have, etc.
< A formal program of a study of a book of the Bible, papal encyclical, or another spiritual book.
< A more formal schedule of topics which the members themselves present or invite outside speakers
   open to the entire campus.
< Days of Recollection or a weekend retreat.
< Communion breakfasts.
< Campus Evangelism to reach the unchurched, especially the Catholic unchurched.
< A Campus March for Life or participate in the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
< Christmas Caroling in Nursing Homes.
< Go on a work mission to a poor parish or even abroad.
< Volunteer work in community outreaches.
< Picnics, hiking, and outings.
< Lake swimming, fishing, or boating.
< Bowling.
< Intramural sports.
< Game Nights.
< Movie Nights or Cine Forums.
< Events in the nearest large city.
< Historical or touristic sites in the area.
< Theater.
<Snack, lunch, or dinner together somewhere.
< Anything else that the members can think of and would like to do.

A program at the Newman Catholic Community at Ohio University in Athens with Fr. Mark Moore.

         All of the above have been done by one Newman Center or another.  The scope of activities only depends upon the imagination, dedication, energy, resources, willingness, and resolve of the members.  As the number of active members increase, so do the possibilities,  
        A Newman Center at a large university is usually the university parish that includes not only students, but also faculty and staff employed at the university and their families. This presents many other opportunities for short courses on theological topics and involvement in ministries as teaching CCD, working with a youth group, students for life, etc.

            Promotion and Marketing of the Newman Clubs & Centers.  The second largest religious denomination in the United States is fallen away Catholics.  According to one figure, most Catholics that fall away do so between the ages of 15 and 22.  Thus it's crucial to the future of the Church that it reaches Catholic college students, the future professionals and leaders of America.  The reality is that even the best Newman Centers reach only a fraction of the Catholic students on campus.  For example, at Kent State, the Newman Parish staff estimate that there are about 7000 Catholic students on campus of which not more than 10-15% of them attend one of the four rather full week-end Masses since many of those who attend are faculty and staff families.  True many students commute, go home on weekends, or attend Mass at the Catholic Church in Kent. 

Clearly, Newman Clubs and Centers must market and promote themselves.  That's evangelization in this Year of Faith decreed by Pope Benedict XVI.  One on one recruiting is the most effective.  The active members should be missionaries (we are called at least in little ways) in talking up the Newman Club and sharing their faith with others, Catholics and non-Catholics.  Evangelical students are very good at bringing fellow students to their groups.  

        It is imperative that parents and relatives as well as pastors, religious, lay workers, and Catholic teachers in the local parishes encourage students to become active in the Newman Club or Center at the secular college they will attend.  Even students at Catholic colleges need encouragement since they can be oblivious to the many opportunities to grow in their faith and participate in different ministries.  Since all Catholics have some contact with college students, it is important that they learn a little about the university apostolate.

            Thus I would like to ask all Catholics for their help in encouraging pre-college and current college students to join the Newman Club on their secular campuses or to become active in the ministries of their Catholic colleges as the case may be.  One on one encouragement is the most effective.  Mentioning it from the pulpit and putting a blurb in the church bulletin are also important.  If you have access to a publication, writing something in it would be a big help.  Feel free to use this blog in any way. 

        Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) is the Historical Patron of the Newman Clubs and Centers.  He was a prominent priest, theologian and renowned scholar of the University of Oxford and the Church of England. He is the author of many books, the most prominent being, “The Idea of the University” which advocated that all knowledge is an integrated whole with Theology at the center uniting it all. Without God there is a vacuum. The book is still used as a model in some Christ centered Catholic colleges.

       John Henry Newman  His Inner Life

         Blessed Newman (see photos above) was the driving force behind the Oxford Movement to renew the Church of England.  It studied the Early Church Fathers of the Church in the first three centuries.  His intense scholarship revolved about his “search for the truth”.......no matter where it may lead.  Being intellectually honest and objective, he could not escape the fact that controversial beliefs of Catholicism based on tradition passed down by the apostles were also taught by the Early Church Fathers.  After all, the 16th Century Protestant reformers claimed that they were bringing Christianity back to what the early Christians believed and observed. Thus this scholar concluded that the Protestant Reformation was a tragic mistake which badly divided Christendom and fractured Christian unity in the West.

          He discovered the richness and truth of the Catholic Church and converted to Catholicism as a priest in 1845 after a two year struggle in prayer and study at Livermore.  It took a tremendous amount of courage and intellectual integrity because Blessed Newman knew that he would be forced out of his faculty position at Oxford and his pastorate, while losing his high standing in the Church of England.  Newman was ostracized by colleagues, friends, and even his sister while being treated with suspicion by Catholic leaders. After almost two years of study in Rome, Newman was ordained as a Catholic priest.  

        This convert formed an oratory, a religious community founded by St Philip Neri in the 16th Century.  From there he gave talks to cultivate understanding between Anglicans and Catholics as a pioneer in ecumenism.  Pittsburgh has such an oratory (see www.pittsburghoratory.org) which houses the Ryan Catholic Newman Center to serve students at the nearby University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham University.  He also founded a Catholic University in Dublin and the Oratory School for Boys.  In 1879 Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal although he asked not to be ordained a Bishop so that he could continue his scholarly work.

         Although Blessed Newman is a contemporary of the First Vatican Council (1869-70) in which he accepted the decree of Papal Infallibility, he has been called a precursor or father of the Second Vatican Council. See http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/04/venerable-john-henry-cardinal-newman.html and http://cardinaljohnhenrynewman.blogspot.com/ for an extensive bibliography and materials on Blessed Newman. His complete works can be found in the Newman Reader and the website by that name, http://www.newmanreader.org/.
         In September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI beatified him and now Blessed John Henry Cardinal is only one step away from being canonized a saint.
   Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, noted convert, scholar & author, and patron of Newman Clubs, pray for us.

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