When Ben Cascarano, 28, transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, he didn’t know what to expect, but he certainly didn’t know he would grow in his faith, embrace a community that he hadn’t realized he needed and forge lifelong friendships, even after he graduated and returned home to Lisle, Ill.
But that’s what happened when he began attending Mass at the Newman Catholic Student Center, and little by little, he expanded his participation for the next almost three years.
Maybe Cascarano isn’t a southern Illinois man, but his relationship with people at Newman gave him a new lease on faith while he was there which continues as he finds his niche at home once more.
In thinking about contributing to an appeal that supports the Newman Center with people from many places outside the Diocese of Belleville, he said: A community becomes a kind of parent, and the people of Carbondale who support students in many ways at the Newman Center can help “raise them,” in a way, and make a lasting impact on their lives, wherever they go.
Before he graduated, Cascarano wrote this about his experience of Newman: “I was a confused combat veteran that was struggling with a lot of problems pertaining to PTSD and was still struggling to adjust to life as a civilian after my short stint in the Army. I attended Mass at the Newman Center regularly, but otherwise I lived like more or less of a recluse; I didn’t bother talking to many parishioners — all I wanted to do was go to Mass and then go home to mind my own business.
“Early in 2014, following a particularly bad bout of depression, I felt compelled to break out of my solitary shell and attempt to seek some sort of companionship.
“Gradually, I became much closer to the staff, who were seemingly always there and more than willing to help a student with virtually anything needed.
“I also began to accumulate friends among the student population who attended events and hung out together outside of the Newman Center. Before I knew it, I was volunteering my time and efforts for Newman events with my new-found friends.
“The Newman Center became the center of my life and bound me closer not only to great people but also to Christ as well.
“It anchored me when I was adrift in a sea of confusion and sorrow and provided me with a chance to grow (both intellectually and spiritually).
“It essentially helped me heal old wounds that stayed with me for years after my time in Afghanistan, and even laid to rest some of my guilt about the things I’d done over there” (because he saw more combat than he thought he would).
“Because of the Newman Center, my faith has grown exponentially and helped me to incorporate Catholicism as a way of life rather than just a thing to do for an hour on Sundays.
“Wherever I go from here on out, I will always remember the role that this place had in shaping me as an individual; indeed, I owe my very life to this church and its staff,” he said.
Now, Cascarano is looking for a job, and looking forward to what God has in store for him.
“I just want to be happy and keep my faith strong.”
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.
— Liz Quirin