New Newman Center brings a little confusion, a lot of excitement to UNL

Story and photos by C.L. Sill, NewsNetNebraska

Students take communion at Thursday night mass at the UNL Coliseum

Students take communion at Thursday night mass at the UNL Coliseum

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Coliseum, the sound of sneakers skidding on a basketball court nearly drowns out the reciting of the rosary.

The choir takes it up a notch to compete with the chatter of a pick up game and students tackling the rock wall watch the congregation take communion from 30 feet in the air.

This will be the UNL Newman Center’s world for the next year. Their brand new church at 16th and Q streets is under construction. In the meantime Catholic priests and parishioners alike must make due with a temporary home.

The plans for a new church began more than five years ago, with lack of space in the old facility justifying the project. Jude Werner, the Newman Center’s director of development said the old facility simply did not have the room to accommodate the church’s needs.

“There were so many times I could sit in my office and you could look out and see people standing in the back of church and standing on the front sidewalk because they couldn’t even get in the building,” he said. “Something needed to be done.”

The 18 million dollar project broke ground in the spring of 2013 and is set to be completed by fall 2014.

Kiewit Corporation was contracted to build the new facility. They are currently  in the first stages of constructing the church.

Kiewit Corporation was contracted to build the new facility. They are currently in the first stages of constructing the church.

Finding a new home

Long before plans for the new facility were finalized, Werner and the rest of the faculty at the Newman Center realized they would have to find a temporary home for the church.

They found that home in the old on-campus Methodist church, located at 16th and U streets. The facility had not been used for several years and was purchased by the Newman Center in 2010.

However, it doesn’t have nearly enough room for mass or even church events.

“We’re building a new church because the old one was too small,” Werner said. “And (the temporary facility) is a third smaller.”

With the tight quarters of the Methodist church turned Catholic headquarters, the center has had to use other campus buildings for all of their gatherings.

Sunday mass is now held in the union ballroom, while Thursday night mass as well as other church events are held at the UNL Coliseum. It’s no small feat to organize these events, as Werner said Sunday mass sometimes draws nearly 650 people.

“We’re really crowded, but we’re making due,” he said. “We feel very blessed that God gave us this temporary location.”

The students react

The Newman Center Choir sings at Thursday night mass

The Newman Center Choir sings at Thursday night mass

A few of the Newman Center’s young congregation said while it’s a bit of a hassle to bounce around from place to place for mass and events, they’ve kind of figured the system out now.

“It has been a little confusing for Thursday night events,” said UNL senior Katie Kudron. “But we have a routine going now.”

Cody Fisher, a junior who has been attending the Newman Center for the last two years and who now sits on the student board, said the situation has actually been good for the congregation.

“We’ve kind of all come together and become closer,” he said. “If we can make it through this we’re gonna make it through thick and thin.”

Monica Mackie is a freshman at UNL, and came to Nebraska in large part because of the Newman Center.

“I wanted to go somewhere that would boost my Catholic faith,” she said. “Seeing the faith here on campus, you could feel it.”

For that reason, Mackie said the hassle of a temporary church is no big deal to her.

“It’s not so much about a building, but the people,” she said.

Father Robert Matya, the head pastor at the Newman Center said the reaction from students in general has been overwhelmingly positive.

“They’re just very excited about it,” he said. “They know the whole project is being done for them.”

What it all means

Matya resonated the student opinion by saying he himself is excited about everything that is happening with the Catholic community at UNL.

“It’s an incredible blessing, I never really thought that would be something that would ever happen,” he said.

He continued to say the need for a new church is a sign of tremendous progress for the Newman Center and for Catholics at UNL.

“When I came here there wasn’t really a need for a bigger chapel,” he said. “But just the way things have happened in terms of the ministry providing for the students, that need is there now.”

Director Werner said the growth and progression of the church is reaching far beyond Lincoln, Neb., something he believes is a long time in the making.

“Pope John Paul II spent a lot of time saying there would be a new spring time in the church, that the Holy Spirit would stir and the church would grow,” he said. “And we’re seeing that a lot with this college generation right now.”

Werner finished by saying this “spring time” has not only lifted the church to new heights, but has also bolstered his own faith.

“It’s very affirming personally for my faith,” he said. “Just keep praying and keep trusting God and doing our part and it’s all going to come together.”

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