UNL Newman Center Planning Expansion

Story and photos by Kim Eiten, News Net Nebraska

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Students fill UNL Newman Center’s chapel for Sunday Mass. There are more than 6,000 Catholic students on campus.

The Newman Center may be the cornerstone of Catholic worship for University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, but this little church has a big problem.

“We’ve seen this, what we call a great problem, this dynamic coming over the last few years, so a number of years ago we started preparing for the future,” said one of the project leaders, Director of Development Jude Werner.

For St. Thomas Aquinas Church, commonly known to students as Newman Center, preparing for the future means finding a way to accommodate a growing Catholic student population. UNL has more than 6,000 Catholic students. Newman Center’s chapel seats 320. Even with four Masses on Sunday, this often means crowded pews and standing room only for worshippers.

The Rev. Robert Matya, pastor of Newman Center, says it’s time to expand.

“We decided we needed to address that situation and do something about additional space,” Matya said.

Initially, this meant renovating the existing building by adding 5,000 square feet. Now, Newman Center is considering other options, which could mean a new building with 52,000 square feet. This is roughly twice the size of the existing building.

“About a year ago, we were given direction from the Bishop’s office to consider building brand new,” said Werner. “If sufficient funds are raised, it would be a brand new building. It would have a much more traditional Catholic appearance in its architecture.”

For students who frequent Newman Center, the changes will be significant.

“I’m a little nervous, just because you get attached to a place and you get used to it. It’s going to take some time to get used to the new renovations but it’s going to be great,” said Allan Phan, a sophomore from Lincoln.

Whether renovating the current church or building a new one, the expansion costs money. The church launched a $25 million fundraising campaign, A Great Problem to Have. The campaign is spread over five years, and so far students and other donors have contributed more than $5.6 million and countless prayers.

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Currently the church has raised $5.6 million of the overall $25 million goal in their five year campaign.
Courtesy of Newman Center

“I’ve been praying rosaries for them,” said Kelly Garagiola, a freshman from Wahoo.

A portion of the $25 million is going to land acquisition. One of the first purchases was the Cornerstone Church, located on 13th and R Streets. Newman Center will hold Mass there during construction and later convert it to housing for the church’s sorority, Matya said.

“We will relocate there for the 15 months that we’re under construction here,” Matya said. “We will at least have a place on campus that will at least be able to be found. It will be accessible to students for Masses.”

Werner says construction ideally will begin in March 2012. When students return to the new Newman Center, it will not only be larger but easily recognizable to students as a Catholic church because of more traditional architecture.

“The first benefit when someone walks onto campus, whether they’re an incoming freshman or just a visitor, we’ll be more identifiable which will hopefully get more students involved right from the beginning because they see it’s the church,” said Werner. “Once they come here, we’ll be able to accommodate them much better than we currently do.”

Phan said he and other student users of Newman Center look forward to welcoming these new worshippers and visitors into what will be not only a larger church, but a larger church community.

“I think it will be exciting just to see the Newman Center grow a whole lot more,” Phan said.

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Students enter Newman Center’s chapel before Sunday Mass. Whether through renovations or rebuilding, the future Newman Center will be able to accommodate increasing demand from Catholic students.

To contribute to A Great Problem to Have, visit huskercatholic.org or contact Jude Werner at (402) 770-1509 or jwerner2@unl.edu.

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