Shortly after my arrival as your Pastor in July, several people mentioned to me how good it would be to foster greater communion between the resident parishioners and the student parishioners. I can see our name listed in many ways around the building, and as a new Pastor, I was becoming curious to learn what exactly I’m Pastor of!
Not long after Bishop McKnight was ordained as the fourth Bishop of our diocese, he asked every parish in the diocese to look at their parish logo (or for many parishes, to develop a logo) as well as to reconsider (or for many parishes, to consider) their branding and name. So, for example, in one of my previous parishes, St. George in Linn, we revised our logo, and in the process made a minor adjustment regarding name. The parish remained St. George Parish, but the school was no longer St. George School, but St. George Parish School—to make it more clear that the school is a mission of the parish—and truth be told, one of the primary missions of the parish.
In my new assignment at Newman, I’ve been talking and listening closely to staff, resident parishioners, student parishioners, reading up on a little history, and even talking on the phone with Fr. Mike Quinn, who was Pastor here for over 20 years in the 80s and 90s. I’ve been trying to understand what a Newman Center is and how that relates to the parish. Let me share a bit of what I’ve learned. First, the history.
In 1881, the first parish in Columbia, Sacred Heart, was established. In 1903 Fr. William Randall organized Catholic college students into the “Glennon Club,” which met at Sacred Heart. In 1948 Msgr. John Flood affiliated this student group with the National Newman Club Federation. The name “Newman” comes from John Henry Cardinal Newman, the famous Anglican priest and scholar who taught at Oxford University and gave up a distinguished career at both Oxford and within the Anglican communion in order to become Catholic. He was ordained as a Catholic priest and toward the end of his life was named a Cardinal. He died in 1890, and Pope Francis canonized him a saint on Oct. 13, 2019—very recently!
The Newman Club met at Sacred Heart parish until new land was purchased on the university’s campus in 1962. A new building was erected with the first Mass celebrated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1963. Strictly speaking, what the Bishop did here was to establish an actual parish, and it was named St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. The Newman “Club,” at this point the Newman “Center,” from a diocesan perspective became St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, but by all accounts, no one called us St. Thomas Aquinas. Everyone considered the new “parish” to be the new home for the Newman Center, and for the first decade membership was limited to college students.
We were created as a parish, but most considered us simply the place where the Newman Center is. In the early 70s, though, our identity as a parish began to assert itself with non-student parishioners.
Let me interrupt the history for a quick explanation according to Canon Law (Church Law) of what a parish is versus a “Newman Center.” A parish (canon 515) is a full legal, juridical entity recognized by the Bishop as a portion of the Local Church/diocese. A diocese is known as the Local Church with the Bishop as its head or chief Pastor (the universal Church is actually a communion of Local Churches with the Bishop of Rome—the Pope—as the head or chief Pastor). So, a “parish” is a portion of the diocesan Church that provides the full range of ministry to the People of God, including all the Sacraments, devotions, and pastoral care. In Canon Law, there is no such thing as a “Newman Center.” That’s why initially, we were called a “Club.” The closest to a Newman Center in Canon Law is a Shrine or place of pilgrimage. A Shrine is a place that provides some pastoral care, but not complete pastoral care, because pilgrims make a visit and then they go home. Similarly, students come to the university and are provided pastoral care, and then they go home (on break, over the summer, after graduation, etc.).
Since 1963, we have been a full-fledged parish (St. Thomas Aquinas) whose primary mission has been Catholic Campus Ministry. Strictly speaking, we’re a parish, not a shrine (or a “Center”). In 1994, when the new building was dedicated, the Parish Council asked Fr. Mike Quinn if the parish name could be changed from St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Thomas More. Fr. Mike said that most didn’t even know the parish was named St. Thomas Aquinas, and in the 90s, St. Thomas More was a very popular saint on the campus. Fr. Mike asked Bishop McAuliffe for permission, and Bishop McAuliffe agreed. Thus, when the Bishop dedicated the new building in 1994, he issued a decree renaming us St. Thomas More. The clarification between a parish and a Newman Center, however, was not resolved, and our resulting “name” has been variously St. Thomas More Parish and Newman Center, St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish, The Newman Center, or as most seem to say, simply Newman.
Some of you are probably wondering at this point: "Where in the world is Fr. Dan going with all of this?" 🙂 Good question! We need to take into consideration the following:
- The request from the diocese to review our “branding” and logo;
- Our own desire for more cohesion and communion in our community;
- The above history and legal clarifications; and
- The fact that St. John Henry Newman has been canonized and is not currently recognized as a saint in our name.
As such, I would like your feedback on our name. What are your questions and thoughts? What do you think our formal name is, and what do you call us? What would you think about using “St. John Henry Newman” as our namesake?
Maybe some of you feel strongly about changing or clarifying some aspect of our name. Maybe some of you feel strongly about not changing anything. Maybe some of you don’t feel strongly one way or the other. Most importantly, I want all to feel that you belong and that your voice can be heard. You can fill out a brief survey by clicking HERE. You can also reach out to myself via email at [email protected] or speak with me when you see me at Newman! Please share your feedback with me before the end of January. By the beginning of February, I’ll try to sum up the feedback and offer a response. I look forward to hearing from you!
Peace and All Good,
Fr. Dan Merz