Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - As summer warms into August, there is still a lot of activity among Catholic students and ministries at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
Members of Phi Kappa Theta, the Catholic fraternity, are sharing their house and fellowship with a handful of seminarians.
Meanwhile, FOCUS Bible studies are still meeting, construction workers are heading into the last few phases for the new Newman Center, and bricklayers are working their way up the outside of the new St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
Senior architecture student and Phi Kappa Theta brother Travis Barrett, who serves as the alumni-family relations chair, said that choosing to stay in the fraternity house this summer was a practical decision for him.
“The main thing is convenience,” he said.
Phi Kappa Theta offers a three-month summer lease, which isn’t all that easy to find in Lincoln. And for Barrett, the house is a perfect location, close to campus and his job.
More than that, Barrett said, “You’re surrounded by such a great group of guys.”
With 10 other Phi-Kapps also residing in the house this summer, he is relishing the opportunity to continue to build bonds with other members, which are based on four pillars or ideals: brotherhood, intellect, social and spiritual.
Barrett said, “It’s that fourth pillar we have that a lot of other fraternities don’t have. It’s another unifying element of something bigger than ourselves.”
With 60 brothers living together, they are able to encourage one another to be active in their faith. When one heads off to daily Mass, pray at the abortion clinic, or put in some volunteer hours, he’ll round up other men to go with him.
Barrett reflected on how being in the fraternity has helped strengthen his faith. As a product of Catholic schools in southern Nebraska, he said he started college with every intention to continue his faith.
“I had been instilled with good faith and good practices,” he said. “From the very beginning [at UNL], I had such great support from the Catholic fraternity and the Newman Center, it was easier.”
This summer, he’s also had the chance to get to know some of the diocesan seminarians, who also took advantage of the convenience and brotherhood of living in the Phi Kappa Theta house this summer. The seminarians lived on the third floor, while the Phi-Kapps stayed on the second floor.
“Getting to meet all those guys has been a lot of fun,” Barrett said.
The seminarians have regularly joined the Phi-Kapps for their Wednesday night Bible studies and meals. They’ve also had work to do at various parishes, educational opportunities, and some socializing, including a recent barbecue at Bishop James D. Conley’s home.
Barrett said that being able to welcome people to the fraternity house – including non-Catholics on campus – has been a great outreach opportunity for them.
“With Phi Kappa Theta having a larger presence, we’ve been able to give back more,” Barrett said. The fraternity hosted community nights on Thursdays during the regular semesters, for example.
The 2013-14 school year was unique, because the old Newman Center and St. Thomas Aquinas Church had been torn down to make way for bigger and better facilities.
Led by Father Robert Matya, pastor/chaplain, the staff had set up shop at 640 N. 16th Street for Bible Study, daily Mass, social gatherings and so on. Sunday Masses have been celebrated in the ballroom at the Student Union.
“It was a unique experience for all of us,” Barrett reflected on the last two semesters.
The Phi-Kapps have opened up their house to host some of the Bible studies and social gatherings that typically would have been held in the Newman Center.
“The community there is just as vibrant as always. We’re still involved in all our usual activities and the level of excitement is higher than ever. But everybody is ready to get back into one place, move forward and grow.”
Situated on the same city block as the church and Newman Center, the fraternity brothers who have stayed in the house over the summer have had a front row seat on construction of both facilities.
“Every morning, I open the blinds to my room and look out and see what they are starting to work on,” Barrett said. “And every evening, I come home and there are almost always guys on the back porch watching the progress.”
Father Matya is looking forward to the completion of both buildings.
“As it stands right now, we are hoping for completion of the Newman Center around the holidays,” he said. “The church itself won’t be done until sometime this spring. We’re shooting for April or May.”
So, for one more semester, the Newman Center will continue its campus outreach from temporary headquarters. Hopefully, the first Sunday Mass will be held in the new church before the spring semester ends.
Next up for Barrett and the other Phi Kappa Theta brothers is moving from their summer rooms to the rooms they’ll have when the fall semester begins. Their other brothers will return beginning Aug. 15.
“Around 20 or 30 alumni come back, spend a night at the house, and help with move-in,” Barrett said. “It should be a relatively smooth transition.”