By Fr. Rich, O.P.
I’ve been privileged to be a part of the pastoral teams who have “geared up” to welcome students back to the challenges and joys of higher education for 14 years. And each time, the “gearing up” was accompanied by the sighs of our resident parishioners; sighs of chagrin, sighs of anticipation.
It has been my experience that parish/Newman Centers exist in dynamic tension. The ongoing challenge of space for activities, the nature of those activities, the costs of those activities is accompanied by questions: “Who’s paying the bill?”; “Who will participate?”; “Who/How will it be staffed?” as well as any number of other issues and concerns.
This year is particularly accompanied, for me, with an excitement like no other. After a summer spent in training, re-organization, and prayer, our campus ministry is energized and excited about the coming year. The parish staff has added small groups and opened up additional catechetical, educational opportunities for our adult parishioners. Our ongoing ministries are strong, looking forward to the infusion of new participants and leaders.
It is a time full of potential, full of the energy: greeting and welcoming students, assuring parents, and watching students re-connecting after a busy summer. The re-integration of the students with our residents is always fun to be a part of as well. The activities that bring our people together — to eat, talk about the summer, talk about the year to come, meet new ministry members or leaders — energizes me as nothing else can.
With all of the activity around campus and parish, the increased number of students and parishioners at the celebration of the Eucharist, participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and time set aside for Adoration reminds me of the real reason that I love working at Newman. The energetic, engaged, inquisitive faith that students bring, literally, to the table and the support for that faith that our parishioners share gets me every time.
The community that gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, whether it be the daily or Sunday celebration, is a wonderful collection of undergrads, post-grads, regulars from other parishes, regulars from St. Thomas, and visitors “just passin’ through.” It is that generous variety that gives a particular character to the celebration of the Eucharist here. Whatever individual experiences each brings to Church, as they participate here, the Newman experience welcomes them to encounter the Triune God in an intentional, faith-filled community.
“Intentional, faith-filled community,” in my mind, kinda says it all. The people — young, old, resident, student, visitor — come because they want to participate in the Eucharist here, here at Newman. The draw is as varied as the people: “it’s close,” “it was first on the list,” “my friends attended here and recommended that we come.”
“We attended here as students and we’ve just stayed”; “we experienced a Newman Center back home and knew we would love liturgy here.” The list goes on.
It has been my experience that a community created by people who have actively chosen to be part of that community is energetic, dynamic, sometimes contentious, committed and active, always faithful, and prayerful.
Whether the cry is “They’re baaaaaaack!” from our residents or “We’re baaaaaaack!” from the students, I extend a heart-filled welcome. I look forward to a year of prayer, faith-filled activities and ministries, small group Bible studies, and opportunities to learn about and practice our commonly held faith. I anticipate a year of growth, of grace, of challenges and joys, and successes and failures. All shared by this community of faith.
The theme for our opening Mass on the Plaza is “Taste and See!” I invite each of you to join me at the feast of faith, worship, ministry, and community opportunities for a wonderful year at Newman.
Fr. Rich, O.P.