The hub, the core, the heartbeat of a campus community: Some words just can’t capture fully what students describe as the Newman Catholic Student Center at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Newman creates and supports a Catholic community on campus, and it provides, for some, a lifeline to young adults who are away from home and searching for a place and people to anchor them during what can be a tumultuous time in a young person’s life.
However, Newman and its staff don’t sit inside a building just on the edge of the campus waiting for students to show up. The staff provides liturgy opportunities, service projects, retreats, discussion and prayer groups and ways for students to delve deeper into their faith life, strengthening and expanding it through the college experience.
Students can drop in, participate in group discussions, find a quiet corner to study, stop by and talk to Father Nicholas Junker, sacramental minister at Newman, meet with director, Tim Taylor, or step into the chapel for quiet prayer.
While many students belong to or drop in at the Newman Center, a small group of 10 students form the core of the Student Ministry Team that includes three basic pillars of ministry: spirituality, outreach and faith formation and social justice.
Jen Kramper, a campus ministry intern and a student from 2008-2012, said the core group “comes up with a vision for the future with students establishing goals.”
Some Newman Center students have started small groups in their dorms, especially on West Campus where they pray the rosary, conduct Bible study and now have five — four undergraduate and one graduate —small groups that meet.
Men can meet at the Newman Center on Tuesdays at 6 a.m. to pray the rosary. Once a month everyone is invited to participate in the morning rosary.
The women gather for Women’s Wednesdays at 7 p.m. to share “a sweet treat” and discuss an article.
Thursdays many students gather for “Food for Thought” to share a meal and conversation.
Taylor, Newman director for almost seven years, said: “One of the big challenges is that young people today really need to believe in what they are doing; they are not the type to be content going through the motions. They are looking for things to be excited about and passionate about.”
One student put Taylor’s thoughts into words. “We’re passionate about our faith and want to show others and encourage them,” Andy Foy of Elkhart, Ind., said.
Students attended Catholic training camp to learn about establishing small groups for the Bible study in the dorms.
Junior Christian Peterson from Antioch, Ill., said he began going to the Newman Center for Mass, and his roommate, Craig Morris a sophomore from Bloomington, Ill., said he went to Newman for the same reason. And, they always offered students food and fellowship after Mass.
“I wanted to be able to come and be with people who believe the same way I do,” Peterson said.
Both young men helped “restart” the Knights of Columbus council — the Brothers of Southern Council — in Carbondale that now has about 60 members.
Involved in social justice and faith formation, Peterson said Newman Center students gathered and made valentine cards for nursing home residents. After they delivered the cards, they stayed to visit and play Bingo.
Several of the students said their faith has been strengthened through the Newman Center, and a few said their parents’ faith has grown through conversations with their children.
“I was just trying to learn more about my faith,” Javier Hernandez of Elgin, Ill., said. “I didn’t have a strong connection to my faith, and I came to Mass here.”
He stayed for the food and fellowship as do others and now participates on the core team.
Claire Dawson of Versailles, Ky., said, “I used to have a really strong faith community at home, so Newman was a perfect fit for me.”
The spiritual life team is planning to host Stations of the Cross around the campus lake during Holy Week. They said it will include a candlelight procession.
Taylour Arkfeld, a junior from Gaylord, Mich., has been involved in many activities during her time at SIU. “While at Newman, I have been involved with retreats, adoration, Women’s Wednesdays and the Student Ministry Team,” she said.
These activities have helped Arkfeld grow in her faith, and Newman has become her “home away from home. As a freshman, I came here knowing no one. Newman enabled me not only to go to Mass but also to make close friends. Without Newman I would not have had the same appreciation for my faith, and my college experience would not be the same.”
Kailey Zalucha, a sophomore from Heyworth, Ill., wonders “What hasn’t Newman done for me that impacted my life? I can’t pinpoint an event, but just a combination of everything Newman has to offer has changed my life for the better.”
Zalucha said she is “a small group leader for a group of undergraduate students on West Campus and I have absolutely loved being a part of that because not only am I helping others grow in their faith, but I am also helping myself grow closer to God and helping to evangelize SIU.
“Without Newman and the people here I would not be where I am today in my faith at all. If you would have told me two years ago that I would be on a student ministry team, leading a small group and pretty much spending all of my free time in the Church, I wouldn’t have believed it, but thankfully that’s where I am today.
“A Newman Center is needed on a college campus because as much as students may say they don’t need Church and God in their lives, they do. Most students deal with the stress of school, being away from home for the first time, trying to find themselves, and without the rock of the Church and God, many can become lost,” Zalucha said.
Maggie McGowan a junior from Macomb, Ill., has been involved at Newman since her freshman year, “participating in Student Ministry Team, singing in the student choir, leading a small group,” and living in student housing provided by the Newman Center, called the Gray House.
“Newman has become my second home — no matter how busy I get in my academic life (which can get pretty crazy, let me tell you), I always make sure to find time for my Newman family. In the three short years that I have been at Newman, I have grown exponentially in my faith and in my love for Christ and the Church.
“When I first came to college, I was unsure about Church teachings and a bit skeptical of religion, but the Newman Center opened my eyes to the wonders that God can work through a truly welcoming community. Seeing so many people who are so in love with the Lord is nothing short of inspiring. Now, by the grace of God, I hope to go into ministry, something I never would have dreamed possible when I was a freshman.
“I thank God every day that the Newman Center gives me the opportunity to pursue the life that He calls me to live. So many wonderful people make Newman what it is,” McGowan said.
Taylor will begin a lecture series on Theology of the Body Feb. 22 (Romantic Love and Lust) and continuing March 21 (Marriage and Communion), April 4th (The Gift of Celibacy), and April 18th (Sexuality, Meaning and Purpose).
The Newman Catholic Student Center received $76,800 from the 2015 diocesan Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal. Please support the 2016 appeal and give what you can.