What exactly is a “Newman”? Does it hurt?
Before you know what a Newman Center is, you should know who Newman was. Blessed John Henry Newman was born in London in 1801. Early in life he attended Oxford University and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1825. Due to disagreements with certain aspects of the Church of England, Newman converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845, a journey that would eventually see him become a cardinal.
While he was known as a literary figure, a poet, and a hymnist, some of Newman’s most valuable contributions were those to the field of education. He constantly proclaimed that it was possible for a student to be well educated while also remaining faithful to Catholicism. Due to the secularism of many universities in Europe at the time in which he lived, Newman envisioned a university where Catholicism could be promoted alongside a rigorous education system. While this vision never came to pass during Newman’s lifetime, his writings on the subject proved very influential.
In 1877 a man named Hartwell de la Garde founded the Oxford University Catholic Club, a group for Catholic students at Oxford University. Prior to this time, Catholic students hadn’t been allowed to attend the university and were met with animosity when they did enroll. The Catholic Club allowed them the opportunity to share their faith while also focusing on their education. In 1888, the members of the Catholic Club chose to rename themselves the Newman Society in honor of John Henry Newman and the work that he had contributed to Oxford.
The first Newman Center outside of the United Kingdom was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1893. Today there are over 2,000 Newman Centers in the United States alone, with many more located throughout the world.
So what does a Newman Center do exactly?
While the activities that different Newman Centers offer vary from place to place, the main mission remains the same as Oxford students envisioned it almost 150 years ago. We’re dedicated to providing a place for students from all backgrounds to interact and have fun while sharing their faith in the oft-polarizing environment of higher education.
We have several events throughout the year. We have two retreats, a weekend retreat in the fall and a day retreat in the spring at Lake Tahoe. Every year volunteers from our group perform Living Stations at local parishes. We have parish picnics and we have an annual tradition of going to Dawn Patrol and the Great Reno Balloon Race. The choir at evening masses are comprised almost entirely of students, and many students are involved at all kinds of different levels, from acolyting to RCIA. We have evening prayer every Wednesday night and monthly evening student masses…really too many things to list!
That sounds like a lot of fun. But I’m traditional/liberal/lapsed/not even Catholic. Would I really belong?
If there’s one central theme at our Newman Center, it’s this: all are welcome. We sing it in our gathering hymns, we display it on our signs, we proclaim it in our words and our deeds. We have no fees, no prerequisites to join, no requirements or limitations. We only ask that you come with an open mind and an open heart. Whether you haven’t set foot in a church since you were baptized, whether you attend adoration on a daily basis, or even whether you don’t know what to make of this whole “Catholic thing”, come on by. You’re always among friends here.