By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Allie Stockdale, a University of Iowa senior, hasn’t missed a Thursday night Mass at the Newman Catholic Student Center since she was a freshman.
Each week, she and some 60 other young adults gather at 10 p.m. in the Newman Center for Mass and to discuss faith-related issues during the homily. For her, the liturgy is one of the highlights of the Newman Center, which this Saturday will celebrate its 20th anniversary of serving young Catholics at its present building.
Neighbor to St. Mary Church, the center offers ministerial, educational, social and service opportunities for about 1,500 students each year, says Father Ed Fitzpatrick. He has been director of the Newman Center since 1984.
In 2008, the center also began offering donor-funded academic scholarships. Five students were awarded $500 each, while another 25 who applied received $144 each. “I wanted to offer something to everybody who applied in the inaugural year,” says Fr. Fitzpatrick.
The center offers scholarships for students who explain plans to blend faith and professional life, and fellowships for those who learn ministry skills with help from center staffers.
The Newman Center’s origins stem from a Newman Club formed at the University of Iowa in 1906, according to center promotional materials. Its first permanent site, the St. Thomas More Center, existed from 1943-1967. In 1967, the Newman Center moved to the former St. Mary School building and remained there 20 years. But the building was later torn down and replaced by the current Newman Center building, dedicated in January 1989.
In 2005, the center purchased its building and property from the Davenport Diocese. A $4 million campaign was launched two years later to fund the $1.8 million purchase and other Newman Center endeavors. About $2.9 million has been pledged.
By the anniversary celebration, the center hopes to have paid off the $250,000 remaining in debt from the 2005 purchase, says Fr. Fitzpatrick.
The building acquired in that purchase, which is larger and more visible than the St. Mary School building that housed the Newman Center in the 1970s and ‘80s, “has increased membership dramatically,” says Fr. Fitzpatrick.
Being able to talk with many fellow Catholic students has shaped the spiritual lives of Stockdale and Kristin Lewis, also a university senior.
“The Newman Center has strengthened my faith mostly because of the other students that are active there,” says Lewis, who now has a fellowship in campus outreach and has taken part in several service projects. “My friendships and experiences with them since I was a freshman have truly made me a better Catholic.”
Stockdale agrees. At the Newman Center, “It’s your best friend saying, ‘Why don’t you go sit in the chapel and pray about it?’” She’s made many of her best friends through the center, and says they, Fr. Fitzpatrick and campus minister Father Jeff Belger have helped deepen her faith life. Service projects, retreats, Bible studies and other programs have done so, too.
And some who are musically inclined find their niche in the Newman Singers, who evangelize throughout the country while on tour.
“It’s very exciting to see that young people are committed to their faith,” says Fr. Fitzpatrick. “You feel like you’re really doing something for the future of the church.”
The Newman Center’s anniversary celebration will begin with Mass at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 24. The Newman Singers will lead music, and a reception will follow.