By Elizabeth Starr
For the Catholic Messenger
Most summers at the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa are quiet and uneventful, since the majority of students have finished their studies for the academic year and have gone home. This summer was different.
Along with continuing their Bible studies and outreach activities, some students and staff repainted and redecorated Newman’s game room. Previously, when you walked into the game room, you saw plain white walls. Now, on one side of the room you see clean black walls with the “Tigerhawk,” logo for the Hawkeyes beneath spotlights. The other side of the room displays an outline of the state of Iowa with “Catholic” printed in its center.
Father Jeff Belger, priest director at the Newman Center, said repainting those walls means more to him than sprucing up an old room. It represents the joining together of the University of Iowa with the Catholic community at the Newman Center. “We receive Hawkeyes, but we send out Catholics,” he said. “The church goes where the need is … and the need here is for college kids to be nurtured in their faith.”
The revamping of the game room is one of many ways the Newman Catholic Student Center’s students and staff are striving to become more mission oriented in ministry and outreach and intentional in building community.
In the past two years, the Newman Center has seen students step up to add new events, such as weekly adoration, participation in the University of Iowa’s homecoming parade and a visit to Mundelein Seminary for the Institute on Religious Life. Also, multicultural events have been added, such as Las Posadas, a traditional, nine-day Latino event preparing for the birth of Christ, and a Spanish-speaking Bible study.
Students have continued Newman’s traditions: weekly events such as Tuesday Night Prayer, small-group Bible studies and Thursday Night Mass, as well as fall and spring retreats. These events, though, are also being revamped by students. This fall, the Newman Center will launch a new retreat called Encounter, which is meant to help students recognize God’s call in their lives and to encounter others on their faith journey.
Fr. Belger said hiring the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to bring missionaries to campus is a factor in the change he has seen in students. But, he believes that change “started before we brought (FOCUS) on. It started through trying to respond to needs of our students.” They are looking for a relationship with Christ, he said. They want exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, devotional prayer and a venue to talk about their faith experience within the context of college.
Christine Wissink, director of outreach at the Newman Center, said, “We are starting a new chapter of looking at what it means to be a disciple and the call to evangelization. People are being more intentional and focusing on personal relationships and not just programing.”
Wissink and the other full-time staff have received training for two years from the Evangelical Catholic (EC), an organization that aims to form missionary disciples and coach staff for “dioceses, parishes, and university campus ministries to lead self-sustaining evangelization movements,” according to EC’s website (www.evangelicalcatholic.org).
Students are becoming more intentional in ministry and outreach, more mission oriented,” Wissink said. “They’re not just trying to bring Catholics in; they are also trying to dialogue with outside groups.”
Among other things, students from the center have tried to advertise more regularly on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway, a main thoroughfare for students on the University of Iowa campus.