Sunday, 26 May 2019 18:15

‘It’s given me a place to come to’

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Newman Center at SIUE impacts college students from across diocese

siue newman centerIt’s a Wednesday morning on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). For most college students, that means class, grabbing something to eat, or maybe sleeping in. But for dozens of Catholic students, it means praying the rosary and celebrating Mass on campus at the Fuller Dome.

“Mass on Wednesday is great because you get to recharge your faith life in the middle of the week, which is super awesome and helps me get through the week,” said Nick Berkenbile, a student from Edwardsville. “Confession, adoration, you name it, they have it.”

“It is so refreshing to see college students, just like me, here, with the same faith and ready to be public about their faith and ready to be on fire,” said Mary Rose Henderson, a student from Springfield. “I was so surprised coming to the Newman Center that first night because it was so simple; wholesome good fun but also with good aspects of our faith incorporated into it.”

Led by Father Rob Johnson, who also is the parochial vicar at St. Boniface in Edwardsville, and Robin Black-Rubenstein, the director of Campus Ministry, the Newman Center at SIUE has seen a positive transition over the past year, with more students attending Mass, getting involved, and living out their Catholic faith.

“It’s awesome to see students coming to Mass and showing up for confession — and asking questions on how they can grow closer to Jesus,” said Father Johnson. “When you look at individual hearts, individual students that are coming with heavy stuff and seeing actual transformation happen, that’s the excitement I feel as a priest because it means what we are doing at the Newman Center is having an impact.”

“Newman Nights,” where a social activity and spiritual lessons are tied together, have also had tremendous success and growth, in addition to several retreats — one of them being at the Chiara Center in Springfield. Campus ministry and student leaders at the SIUE Newman Center have also made it a point to invite new students to social activities such as BBQs, tailgates, and Saints and Suds.

“Within all of those activities is our Catholic faith,” Black-Rubenstein said. “The Newman Center is a place to come to express yourself as a Catholic or to learn more about Catholicism. We try to be a home away from home.”

Beyond building up and supporting student’s Catholic faith, the SIUE Newman Center has also provided quality friendships for students, something you can’t always find in your dorm hall or in class. “The Newman Center is a friendly atmosphere, and there are a lot of people here I am comfortable with growing in my faith with,” said Jacob Siebert, a student from Chatham. “That’s why I come here every week.”

“The Newman Center has really kept me sane,” said Maggie Deckard, a student from Springfield. “When a lot of stress is going on, it gives me a place to come to where I can relax, grow in my faith and grow in community with the other students.”

In January, several students attended the FOCUS Seek Conference in Indianapolis, along with 17,000 other college students.

“That was amazing to see and cool to be a part of,” Henderson said. “We learn so much from each other. We’ll teach each other aspects of our faith. My experience at the Newman Center has been beautiful and very fruitful.”

“The Holy Spirit is working here,” Father Johnson said. “College campuses are one of if not the hardest places to live out our Catholic faith. So, the importance of a Newman Center and good campus ministry is vital to these students. I am happy to play a role.”

More information at the SIUE Newman Center can be found here: