A place of prayer, respite, study and worship for Catholic students at Manchester University opened its doors Tuesday evening, Sept. 17. A blessing by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and a reception inaugurated the only Newman Center in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and the visible, accessible and conveniently located presence of the Catholic Church at the campus.
Members of the leadership of the university, as well parishioners of nearby of St. Robert Bellarmine, North Manchester, and more than a dozen students were on hand to mark the occasion.
Before blessing with holy water the exterior and interior of the center, and those who were present, Bishop Rhoades welcomed everyone and acknowledged that their prayers, donations and physical labor were what had made a reality of something that began as a prompting by the Holy Spirit of St. Robert pastor Father Curry.
“This will be a home away from home,” he said. “It will be a focal point for Catholic life at this university, giving witness to our faith in Christ within the context of an academic community.”
The bishop read the Gospel of the Great Commission from the Book of Matthew, and proclaimed: “The reason for the Newman Catholic student center is to be a home of faith and also a place of evangelization … and most importantly, a place of prayer for the students to come.”
He called attention to the date of the blessing, which was the feast day of St. Robert Bellarmine. “A great patron saint, a doctor of the church, a great scholar, a bishop, a cardinal,” he noted.
While Newman groups exist on other college and university campuses in the diocese, Manchester University is the only non-Catholic school near which a physical entity, a Newman Center, is located. It will serve as a hub of outreach to students and a faith environment from which the love of Christ will be shared with the student body, which totals around 7,000. Weekly Mass and a doubling of the frequency of the annual Spartan Awakening retreat are already planned for the location.
The address of the former single-family residence is 1010 Wayne St. It sits diagonally across the street from Helman Hall and the MU Administration Building, very close to campus — a particularly providential part of God’s plan, Protestant pastor Art Hunn and several others in attendance believe.
The home was purchased in May and then remodeled over the summer by Father Curry, several students and parishioners. Two interior walls came down in order to open up the space for gatherings, a new furnace and landscaping installed, a small basement gutted and newer cabinets and appliances installed in the kitchen.
Ben Nesler’s family, parishioners of St. Robert, were among those who responded to the call to make ready the space. Ben is a freshman elementary education major at MU: He, his parents and siblings refinished the home’s hardwood floors over the course of a recent weekend.
In the past, ministry to Catholic students at Manchester University has consisted of different types of outreach, predominantly taking the form of a monthly meeting on campus and a fall retreat at the parish, said Father Curry. With the new center so much more is possible. There are different spaces in the house where students can do homework, have discussions, pray and hold meetings, and a Mass will be celebrated weekly on the second floor, where two former bedrooms have been turned into a chapel.
“I think of the commuters,” said Julie Wendel, a St. Robert parishioner who attended the blessing. “If you drive to campus and then have two hours between classes, well, we’d be open. You can come over here, study, relax, have a cup of coffee.”
The MU Newman Catholic Student Center is considered a ministry of the parish. A pastoral team will oversee the ministry, which will be carried out by Father Curry.
Open hours at the center are Tuesday, 8-10 p.m., Thursday 8-10 p.m. and Sunday 7-10 p.m. with Mass at 8 p.m. On Tuesdays, “Praise and Prayer” will take place at 8 p.m. A discussion on the Gospels will begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26. Open hours may be extended in the future.
The first Newman Centers were inspired by the writings of Cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman and established in the late 1800s.
“One of his great works was the idea of a university, and his insights into education are still relevant today,” said Bishop Rhoades. “Especially the holistic education of our young people: the education of the mind, but never at the expense of the heart or the soul.”
“When we think of that word, education, it comes from the Latin, ‘educare,’ which means, “to lead beyond,” he continued. “And you who are students at Manchester University, your time at the university is a time to be led beyond yourselves. That’s what true education does: It leads us beyond ourselves to truths that are greater than ourselves.
“The greatest reality of all is the One who is Himself the Truth and satisfies the hungers of every human heart and mind — God. Let us bless the Lord then, and pray that He will shower His blessings on all who will gather and study in this place,” he concluded.
Manchester University President Dave McFadden said he’s excited to have a Newman Center so easily accessible to students. “I’m sure that they will find it to be a faith home away from home. Having a place to gather for Mass and worship will help keep them connected to their faith.
“Catholic students make up about 15 percent of our student body here in North Manchester, and this gives them an inviting space to be together,” he said. “I spend a lot of time with students, and know they will especially appreciate the kitchen and comfortable furniture for hanging out.”
Father Curry has become an integral part of life on campus for MU Catholic students, he added.
“He and I talked about this center, this dream of his, over coffee and lunch many times. I’m delighted to see the dream realized.”
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