By Jan Schultz
IMPERIAL (SNR) - While the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and its St. Thomas Aquinas Church - Newman Center are hundreds of miles away for some, supporters in western Nebraska are well aware of the good things happening there.
About 45 people gathered in Paxton Sept. 9 to hear an update on the “A Great Problem to Have” capital campaign that is funding the newly-constructed church and expanded Newman Center on the UNL campus.
Hosted by Ralph and Beverly Holzfaster of Paxton at their family-owned Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse, attendees heard from Father Robert Matya, Newman Center pastor and chaplain; Jude Werner, Newman Center director of development; and Kevin Clark of Clark Architectural Collaborative in Lincoln, architect for the project.
Father Matya said the progress in fundraising and contributions so far for the project could not have happened without support from all across the state.
Meetings like the one in Paxton and other western Nebraska communities have helped draw in that support.
So far, $20 million of the project’s initial capital campaign goal of $25 million goal has been raised.
Werner noted when discussions started five years ago about a potential expansion project for the Newman Center and St. Thomas Aquinas Church, they had a problem with a church that seated 300. Even with four Sunday Masses, the church was filled.
“Some students were arriving at Mass on Sunday, saw it was full and left,” he said.
“There is enough junk out there turning kids away,” Werner added, let alone a church in which they often couldn’t find seating.
That concern led Newman Center leaders to meet with Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz and diocesan officials, a meeting Werner said he came away from “shocked”: the direction of the meeting was to build a new church.
Five years later, a new church is up and an expanded and remodeled Newman Center is serving more students than ever. A total of 850 students attended the first Sunday Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas when fall classes began this year. More than 2,000 are now attending Masses each weekend.
Before the church and Newman Center construction, new housing for the Catholic men’s fraternity, Phi Kappa Theta, was completed. The future holds even more with construction of new housing for the Catholic women’s sorority, Phi Alpha Chi at UNL.
Construction of the fraternity and sorority housing is included in the $25 million fundraising goal.
Werner said he’s been amazed at watching God’s providence as the project unfolded, starting with the acquisition of nearby properties and the moving of businesses.
Architect Clark noted there was a team of more than 100 architects and artists involved in the new church design and construction.
He said the Gothic style and traditional look of the church reflects the student input they received that they wanted “something with tradition.”
He felt the design reflects the lives of both Blessed John Henry Newman and St. Thomas Aquinas and their origins.
“The building does a wonderful job of teaching about those namesakes,” he said.
“When students walk into the church, you hear ‘wow,’” Clark said.
One of the impressive parts of the 60,000-square foot church is its 20 x 24 foot stained glass window, Clark said.
Father Matya probably said it best on what the completion of the church construction means.
“When I see 800 kids at Mass it’s all I can do not to weep,” he said.
“We have to meet students where they are and from there bring them closer to Christ,” he said.
There are many opportunities to donate to the project. Visit www.huskercatholic.com.