By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Father Ed Fitzpatrick, priest director of the Newman Catholic Student Center, will retire June 30 after 31 years of service to the Newman Center. In planning for his retirement, the Newman Center has hired a lay executive director for the first time.
Additionally, two priests have been assigned to serve alongside current campus minister Father Steve Witt. The three priests will simultaneously serve St. Mary Parish — Fr. Witt as administrator and Father Corey Close and Father Jeff Belger as parochial vicars.
Fr. Witt is optimistic that the new and old faces at Newman Center will help carry on Fr. Fitzpatrick’s legacy. “He’s a legend. … a lot of people are going to miss him.”
A decision to hire a layperson as executive director of the Newman Center was first suggested by Fr. Fitzpatrick as his retirement was approaching. This suggestion was embraced by Bishop Martin Amos and the center’s staff and corporate board members, Fr. Fitzpatrick said.
Bishop Amos told The Catholic Messenger the addition of a lay executive director to handle business affairs will give the three campus ministers more time to focus on pastoral efforts.
Fr. Witt said, “I thought it was hugely insightful to move in that direction. It just makes sense.”
Laurie Harris will become the Newman Center’s executive director starting March 25. Her experience includes three years as executive director of Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa.
Harris said she is thankful and optimistic about her upcoming role with Newman Center. “I hope to bring all the gifts that I hold to the Newman Center out of a response of love and service to God,” she said.
The two new campus ministers — Fr. Belger and Fr. Close — both have ties to the University of Iowa. Fr. Belger previously served as campus minister and parochial vicar to St. Mary’s from 2005 to 2010 before becoming pastor of parishes in Oskaloosa and Pella.
Fr. Witt said, “The students loved Fr. Belger! Although most have graduated, there is still fond talk of him.”
Fr. Close is a University of Iowa graduate. He was a member of St. Mary Parish during his schooling, and celebrated his first Mass as a priest there. He has served as parochial vicar to Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton since 2013.
Bishop Amos said Fr. Belger and Fr. Close expressed interest in college ministry prior to receiving their new assignments. He believes the two priests, along with Fr. Witt, will make a great team.
“There are three different personalities to relate to the students and the parish in more ways than one could do,” Bishop Amos said.
They will all live together in the St. Mary rectory, which Bishop Amos said is important for team-building and communication.
The Newman Center hosts a daily Mass on weekdays and five Masses on weekends.
As one of the the most highly attended place of worship in the diocese, Fr. Witt said it is not unusual to have 1,600 or 1,700 people attend weekend Masses. Newman Center is also host to Catholicism courses, Bible studies, a variety of small and medium-sized groups, a discipleship program, retreats and holy hours.
Fr. Fitzpatrick said The Newman Center strives to make disciples for the church and the world, and he is confident that this work will continue as it enters a new phase. “The Newman Center’s history, presence and ministry is a testament to the time, talent, and treasure of so many people over the years. … I have been so blessed to have been a part of this (ministry) over the years.”