Not Just a Place — By Joe Bradley
I still have a vivid memory of the first time I attended Mass at the Newman Center almost 10 years ago, a few weeks into my freshman year at the University of Missouri. I found a fellow Catholic and Cubs fan that lived down the hall and we decided to attend the student Mass together. During Fr. Thomas’ homily he cracked some jokes about both the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Jesuits. As an Omaha native and recent graduate from a Jesuit high school, I wasn’t sure what to make of my new faith home. I certainly could have never imagined at the time that six years later, Fr. Thomas would hire me on as the Coordinator of Communications, Technology and Alumni Relations at the Newman Center.
However, in those six years, I grew to embrace Newman as my home away from home. I joined the Service Team my freshman year, and then served as the Service Chair of the student steering committee for three years, coordinating projects such as serving at the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, cooking at Ronald McDonald House, and raking leaves for elderly parishioners. My senior year I traveled to Guatemala on Newman’s Mission Trip. It was the Newman community’s heart for service and the world that made me jump at the chance to be a part of the ministry team here.
This past summer at our wedding, Fr. Rich put my wife and I on the spot during the ceremony and asked us why we wanted to celebrate our marriage at Newman (I think he meant in the Church in general), and I sheepishly responded, “because I work here!” But Newman has always been more than a place I work. Newman helped me grow in my faith and develop my heart for kids and service. It was through friends I made at Newman that led me to meeting my wife. I met the best man in our wedding volunteering at Vacation Bible School. Our wedding party was filled with Newman friends, now scattered around the country.
I have discovered the most difficult part of living in a college town is not the long wait for a table at Flat Branch during the school year, but rather having to say goodbye to so many people you have grown close to over the past several years. With every graduation season, our community loses hundreds of members that impacted our lives in one way or another. That’s the nature of a college town and Newman Center and that’s to be expected — that does not make it any easier.
But, what I have learned through personal experience and working in alumni relations is that Newman is a place that never leaves you. Perhaps that’s because Newman is not just a physical place, but also a place we hold in our hearts, no matter where our lives lead us.
Fr. Rich would often tell me that he had a day marked on his calendar for when he thought I was going to walk in his office to tell him I was leaving to work full-time at the Day Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit I started in 2014 to award scholarships to kids for extracurricular activities. In many ways my move to a position with fewer hours at Fr. Tolton High School is one step closer to me reaching that goal. Even though I will remain a Newman parishioner, I am sad to be leaving a staff that has supported my faith and dreams and ambitions since day one. I will miss working closely with so many parish volunteers I have come to know and love.
Change is hard. Saying goodbye is hard. Wrapping up a column in less than 600 words is hard (though I know I will find no sympathy from Fr. Rich on that one). Suffice it to say that I am grateful for all the memories and experiences these last four years serving the Newman community as a member of the staff. My heart is full.
Joe Bradley was the Coordinator of Communications, Technology and Alumni Relations at St. Thomas More Newman Center from 2013 to 2017. He is still a resident parishioner but transitioned to a Coordinator Communications position at Fr. Tolton Catholic High School.