Diocesan News

Catholic College Students Outgrowing UNL Newman Center

LINCOLN (SNR) - Fresh off this year’s Husker Catholic Live, Father Robert Matya was enthusiastic as he talked about the future.

Husker Catholic Live is an annual event that celebrates the thousands of students who are part of the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). The Friday evening dinner is a key fundraiser for the program.

"It was the biggest one we ever had," Father Matya reported of the Nov. 12 event. "We had about 425 people."

A current student and an alumnus each spoke about what the Newman Center had done for them. The surprise guest speaker was Bo Pelini, head football coach of the UNL Cornhusker football team.

Currently, there are about 6,000 students at UNL who identify themselves as Catholic. More than a third of them are actively involved in the Newman Center.

"We have well over 2,500 kids who are active in one way, shape or form," Father Matya said.

That includes some students from Nebraska Wesleyan University, Southeast Community College and Union College, all of which have campuses in Lincoln.

Since 1906, the Newman Center at UNL has been a constant source of spiritual support, education and community for Catholic college students. Like other Newman Centers on other secular university campuses across the country, it is named after Blessed John Cardinal Newman.

Cardinal Newman was a 19th century British theologian who left the Anglican tradition to become Catholic when he was 42 years old. He later became a priest and rector of the University College in Dublin, Ireland. He was elevated to cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879.

At the Newman Center in Lincoln, students can attend daily Mass and participate in one of 80 different Bible study groups led by FOCUS missionaries. They can join a Catholic fraternity or sorority, participate in pro-life activities or other charitable endeavors, and socialize with other Catholic students at numerous events.

They can also attend retreats organized by the Newman Center, shop in the small bookstore on site (which is stocked by local Catholic bookstore Gloria Deo), or embark on the vocation discernment process.

The continuous growth of the Newman Center indicates just how important it is to the students. The first Mass of the school year was literally standing-room-only, with students lining the aisles of St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Some even had to stand outside the chapel, which seats only 300.

Jude Werner, director of development described the increasing number of Catholic students at the Newman Center as, "a great problem to have."

It’s become increasingly clear that the Newman Center facility is just too small. Even though Father Matya and his assistant, Father Benjamin Holdren, celebrate Mass four times each Sunday, it’s not enough.

"Kids will come to Mass and the church is full – there’s no place to sit," lamented Father Matya.

This can be particularly detrimental to a college student who is struggling with his or her faith and the numerous temptations of college life.

"We’re just at the point where we can’t do much more without a bigger facility," Father Matya said.

During Husker Catholic Live, Father Matya and his team described their plans to build a new, larger church and Newman Center. Guests were shown a six-minute video about the Newman Center’s important ministry.

Pledges have been coming in to support the Newman Center’s capital campaign.

"We’ve raised about $5 million in pledges so far," Father Matya said. The overall goal for the campaign is $25 million.

The target date to start building the new facility has been set early 2012 – just a little over a year from now. Father Matya said they are in negotiations for the necessary land acquisition that will enable the new Newman Center to remain adjacent to campus.

Mr. Werner is optimistic that they’ll reach their fundraising goals. "We are getting closer each month," he said.

One of the most exciting aspects of the building project to date is the cornerstone of the new church. The piece of granite, which measures about a foot square and less than an inch thick, was made right here in Nebraska.

Alan Holdren, brother of Father Holdren, works for the Catholic News Agency. When he received credentials to be part of the press entourage that accompanied the pope to England for the Sept. 19 beatification Mass for John Cardinal Newman, he carried the cornerstone with him.

Shortly thereafter, Father Matya flew to Rome with the cornerstone safely tucked into his briefcase. It was blessed by the Holy Father during his Wednesday General Audience.

"It’s really been a great source of grace," Father Matya said.

For more information about the building project or to make a donation, contact Jude Werner at the Newman Center. A new website about the capital campaign will be launched soon; the link will be available on the Newman Center web site at http://newmancenter.unl.edu.

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