This last Sunday, David and I were lucky enough to get to attend the blessing & dedication of the new Newman Center and St. Thomas Aquinas Church at our alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
If you aren’t from around Nebraska, or know me in real life, the Newman Center’s where David and I met during our first week of college. I could give you a hundred different reasons I loved our time at Newman during college. Through the community there I met some of my best friends, went to more social events and group things than I ever would have otherwise (#introvert), and most importantly developed a deep and real love for Christ and His Church because of the people I met there.
Some say the heart of evangelization has to do with all these new forms of reaching people – inviting them to things on Facebook, clever graphics in blog posts about Catholicism, new music, or going to people where they are. But I have to disagree. To me, the New Evangelization, what St. John Paul the Great called us to, is based primarily through relationship.
And that’s what I found at the Newman Center. Not only did I find relationships with other faithful, striving Catholic students, all hoping and striving towards a life with Christ, but I found Him. I found Christ Himself, a true and deep relationship with the God who made me. I fell in love with Him there – in hours of adoration, in late-night Masses, in small visits in between classes, in silent tears after Reconciliation. I was formed into who I am now and who I’ll be in the future there.
And now that Newman Center that I treasured so much – with its vividly blue stained-glass windows, and dramatic Crucifix, and beloved side chapels – is gone. It was torn down back in 2013 (part of the reason David and I weren’t married there – it wasn’t there!). Now in its place stands a brand new, beautiful church and Newman Center.
I’m a nostalgic sort of person. I miss the old building a bit – it was cozy, intimate, and a little outdated. There was only 1 set of bathrooms, and the tile was chipping in places, and students were crammed in for Masses weekend after weekend. (The old church sat 300 – the new now seats 650.) I have so many memories built into the old church – hilarious nights with friends; attending 10 p.m. Mass with my then-boyfriend, now husband; hosting parties and winning chili cook-offs; dances and heart-to-hearts and spiritual growth all wrapped up into one small space.
But this change is one that’s necessary, one needed for generations far beyond my own small contribution. In place of the old building is a new space to love for students for years and years to come. Other hearts besides mine will be changed there. Other future spouses will meet and grow in relationship there together. More trials and growth of souls than I can count will happen in this new church, and for that I am in awe and so very grateful.
David and I sat in the very back of the church during the dedication Mass, and I was in tears multiple times throughout the service. I could at the same time see the old and new churches together – the years and people formed by the old church, willing to put time and effort and money into building a church for the next generations. I could envision students for years to come walking into the same space, finding exactly what they were looking for – and more. Seeing people of all ages, from tiny babies to students, from new parents to grandparents, and every age in between made the timelessness of the moment even more memorable.
I’ve felt beyond blessed to be part of the Newman Center during my time in college (however long ago that may feel to me now…and it’s only been two years!). I know that this new church will serve many more students just like I was – looking for a place to call home, a place to find Him. As we knelt in prayer after the Mass had finished, all I could say to Jesus was thank you.
Please join me in praying for all the students to come for this Newman Center, and by thanking Him, too.