By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Fresh off this year’s
Husker Catholic Live, Father Robert Matya was enthusiastic as he
talked about the future.
Husker Catholic Live is an annual
event that celebrates the thousands of students who are part of
the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
The Friday evening dinner is a key fundraiser for the program.
"It was the biggest one we ever had,"
Father Matya reported of the Nov. 12 event. "We had about 425
A current student and an alumnus each
spoke about what the Newman Center had done for them. The
surprise guest speaker was Bo Pelini, head football coach of the
UNL Cornhusker football team.
Currently, there are about 6,000
students at UNL who identify themselves as Catholic. More than a
third of them are actively involved in the Newman Center.
"We have well over 2,500 kids who are
active in one way, shape or form," Father Matya said.
That includes some students from
Nebraska Wesleyan University, Southeast Community College and
Union College, all of which have campuses in Lincoln.
Since 1906, the Newman Center at UNL
has been a constant source of spiritual support, education and
community for Catholic college students. Like other Newman
Centers on other secular university campuses across the country,
it is named after Blessed John Cardinal Newman.
Cardinal Newman was a 19th century
British theologian who left the Anglican tradition to become
Catholic when he was 42 years old. He later became a priest and
rector of the University College in Dublin, Ireland. He was
elevated to cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879.
At the Newman Center in Lincoln,
students can attend daily Mass and participate in one of 80
different Bible study groups led by FOCUS missionaries. They can
join a Catholic fraternity or sorority, participate in pro-life
activities or other charitable endeavors, and socialize with
other Catholic students at numerous events.
They can also attend retreats
organized by the Newman Center, shop in the small bookstore on
site (which is stocked by local Catholic bookstore Gloria Deo),
or embark on the vocation discernment process.
The continuous growth of the Newman
Center indicates just how important it is to the students. The
first Mass of the school year was literally standing-room-only,
with students lining the aisles of St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
Some even had to stand outside the chapel, which seats only 300.
Jude Werner, director of development
described the increasing number of Catholic students at the
Newman Center as, "a great problem to have."
It’s become increasingly clear that
the Newman Center facility is just too small. Even though Father
Matya and his assistant, Father Benjamin Holdren, celebrate Mass
four times each Sunday, it’s not enough.
"Kids will come to Mass and the church
is full – there’s no place to sit," lamented Father Matya.
This can be particularly detrimental
to a college student who is struggling with his or her faith and
the numerous temptations of college life.
"We’re just at the point where we
can’t do much more without a bigger facility," Father Matya
During Husker Catholic Live, Father
Matya and his team described their plans to build a new, larger
church and Newman Center. Guests were shown a six-minute video
about the Newman Center’s important ministry.
Pledges have been coming in to support
the Newman Center’s capital campaign.
"We’ve raised about $5 million in
pledges so far," Father Matya said. The overall goal for the
campaign is $25 million.
The target date to start building the
new facility has been set early 2012 – just a little over a year
from now. Father Matya said they are in negotiations for the
necessary land acquisition that will enable the new Newman
Center to remain adjacent to campus.
Mr. Werner is optimistic that they’ll
reach their fundraising goals. "We are getting closer each
month," he said.
One of the most exciting aspects of
the building project to date is the cornerstone of the new
church. The piece of granite, which measures about a foot square
and less than an inch thick, was made right here in Nebraska.
Alan Holdren, brother of Father
Holdren, works for the Catholic News Agency. When he received
credentials to be part of the press entourage that accompanied
the pope to England for the Sept. 19 beatification Mass for John
Cardinal Newman, he carried the cornerstone with him.
Shortly thereafter, Father Matya flew
to Rome with the cornerstone safely tucked into his briefcase.
It was blessed by the Holy Father during his Wednesday General
"It’s really been a great source of
grace," Father Matya said.
For more information about the building project or to make a
donation, contact Jude Werner at the Newman Center. A new
website about the capital campaign will be launched soon; the
link will be available on the Newman Center web site at