“It really feels like coming home,” said the second-year accounting student at the University of Guelph.
The Newman Centre, a 10-minute walk from the university, opened last October. The beautifully renovated brick house serves between 25 and 40 students with a full weekly schedule of events. There’s Adoration, the rosary and three Masses in the oratory, a Bible Study in the living room, a graduate student’s group meeting in the library and a dinner followed by a presentation or movie in the large meeting room.
But campus minister Ania Krysciak says it’s not just about the programming.
“What’s most transformative for the students is the relationships and the opportunity to share that living faith. That’s what makes it go from the head to the heart,” she said.
Krysciak, who has been the campus minister at the University of Guelph for more than 10 years, said that she can see the difference having the Newman Centre makes to the students.
Previously, the University Catholic Community booked rooms in the space provided for university clubs. They often ended up in less than ideal spaces and were shifted from room to room. Especially for prayer, Krysciak said, they were “lacking an element of silence and an element of privacy.”
In their new space, they have an oratory where the Eucharist is reserved. They are able to set it aside just for prayer — no music practices or meetings — so it’s always available when a student wants to pray.
“The presence of Christ has an effect. It has a real impact on how I work,” said Krysciak.
The Centre is named after Blessed John Henry Newman, as are many Catholic university student associations. The theologian and cardinal from the 19th century called for a laity educated in the faith at a time when that was relatively rare. His emphasis on “that balance in terms of faith life and academic life” is crucial, Krysciak said.
Chaplain Fr. Mark Morley has been inspired by Newman for years. His grandfather helped establish the Newman Club at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and Newman’s book, The Idea of a University, influenced his own study of engineering, philosophy and theology.
Morley has wanted to start a Newman Centre since he was in seminary, so when he got a call from Bishop Douglas Crosby in the fall of 2014 asking him to help start a student centre at the University of Guelph, Morley had only one question: Could it be a Newman Centre?
Finding a home for the Newman Centre proved easier than expected.
While looking to buy a house near campus, the Diocese of Hamilton received a call from the neighbour of a recently vacated house on Gordon Street. The house was owned by the diocese and he was wondering about its fate.
Not only was the timing perfect, but it came to light that the building had been used as a Newman Centre in the 1960s and ’70s.
“It’s interesting how God works,” Morley said. “It all came together.”
A key element, Haasen says, is that Krysciak is always available to talk to students, whether it’s about prayer, school or the latest movies.
Samantha Pascoal, University Catholic Community president and third-year arts and science student, shares that priority. She said there are a lot of Catholic students who are “floundering in their faith” and really need a community.
(Fernandes, 17, is a Grade 12 homeschool student from Dundalk, Ont.)