Northeast Catholic College is located in Warner, New Hampshire, and has 90 students and five…
Newman residence hall creates space for faith
In many ways, it is hard to live as a Catholic at most universities in the United States. It takes intentionality and care for students to nurture their faith, and a community and support structure is an invaluable part of that intentionality.
It is in this vein that St. John’s Catholic Newman Center established a residence hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Called Newman Hall, this residence is a 586-bed co-ed hall, offering a faith-based living environment that provides a supportive and welcoming environment for all of the students.
Not all of the students are Catholic — only around 80-85 percent. “We appreciate the diversity that our non-Catholic residents provide in the community, just as they appreciate the warm and welcoming environment that we provide,” said Jennifer LaMontagne, director of marketing and communications at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center.
Sense of community
There are amenities at Newman Hall that make it unique among campus residence halls at UIUC. Many of these amenities are in service toward the goal of an intentional faith community that fosters and encourages the students to live the Faith in their daily lives. These include 24-hour access to St. John’s Chapel, a 14-person pastoral and support staff, and a host of ministry programs and student groups that residents and nonresidents alike can take advantage of to encounter Christ and learn about their faith.
Newman Hall, St. John’s Chapel and the Newman Center offices are all under the same roof, providing a cohesive sense of community for residents. It also gives the Newman Center staff “a unique opportunity for us to minister to them by living in relationship with them,” LaMontagne said. “We hear from our residents all the time that one of the best aspects of Newman Hall is the community, and that community springs directly from the faith that we live out every day.”
Newman Hall by no means is intended to be an insular and exclusive community. Rather, it is a particularly intentional way of living as Catholics on campus, although the Catholic community and campus community, of course, are much greater. “The community that we nurture and grow within the hall is just an extension of the overall Catholic Illini community that we nurture across campus for all Catholic students, whether they live with us or not,” LaMontagne said.
‘You belong here’
The history of Newman Hall goes back to 1928 when it was established as a Catholic dormitory for men. The hall did not became co-ed until the late 1990s. In the main lobby is a plaque that states that the hall was created to offer students at the University of Illinois “the comfort of home,” among other things.
“Newman Hall has always been a place where students could be nurtured physically, spiritually and emotionally,” LaMontagne said.
She shared how the former director and head chaplain, Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, used to remind the team of resident advisers during each year’s training, “Whether a student is Catholic or not, when they leave this place, I want them to think to themselves, ‘Those were the kindest, warmest, most loving people I’ve ever met in my life.'”
“He knew encountering Christ’s love through our community and our staff would plant a seed in their hearts that would hopefully one day lead them to a relationship with Christ, even if not during their time living at Newman Hall,” LaMontagne said.
It is important for Catholic students to have the opportunity to live in community. “Our motto is ‘You belong here,'” LaMontagne said. “We think that community is critical not just for Catholic students, and not just for residents of Newman Hall, but for any university student.”
Community can be a critical way to fulfill the mission of leading students to a lifelong connection with Christ and his Church — along with the sacraments, of course, she said. “While the residents of Newman Hall get to experience the community that we’ve built here in a particular way, it’s also very important to us that all Catholic Illini, no matter where they live on campus, are welcomed — and feel themselves welcome — into the community at St. John’s.”
Place of growth, support
Newman Hall faces many of the same challenges as any campus-housing facility: safety and security of students, the well-being and growth of residents, etc. The difference is that Newman Hall staff approaches everything from a Catholic perspective. There are also rules that may differ from most other dorms, including opposite-sex visiting hours. “As far as practice and exploration of the Faith goes, our approach is toward invitation, encouragement and witness, rather than requirement,” LaMontagne said.
“One of the biggest reasons why I chose [UIUC] was because I wanted to live at Newman Hall,” said Anton Escano, a freshman resident of Newman Hall majoring in piano performance with a minor in business. “I was attracted to Newman Hall because I knew about Newman’s reputation of having a warm, inviting community that welcomes everyone.” Escano was drawn to the residence hall’s values of community, faith and friendship.
One of the things Escano has loved about living at Newman Hall is that everything a student needs is there. “If I need a quiet place to study, there are 24-hour quiet study rooms. If I want to avoid the ‘Freshman 15,’ there is a fitness center downstairs. If I want to practice, there are practice rooms with pianos in them. If I want to have fun with my friends, I can check out games or movies from the front office or hang out with them in the recreational lounges. If I need to pray, I always have access to the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel.”
The warm and welcoming community has helped Escano step out of his comfort zone, beyond his circle of friends at the music school. “I have grown so much just by being surrounded by a supportive community of other striving Catholics, who walk together with you in the journey of faith,” he said. Additionally, the staff maintains close relationships with the students, providing support.
“Newman Hall is a place that is devoted to igniting friendships not only with other people, but with God,” Escano said. “Having this community is the reason why the transition from high school to university life was as smooth as it was, and Newman Hall has granted me a college experience that I will never forget.”
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.
|Newman Center Opportunities|
The Freshman Overnight is offered at the beginning of each year to help freshman find a faith community and get advice from upperclassmen about resources that will keep them centered and connected through their time at UIUC.Koinonia weekends are offered three times each academic year. Run by the students, this retreat is a great opportunity for those exploring their faith who want to find authentic friendships and learn how faith can fit into their college experience.
The UNPlugged Silent Retreat is for students already established in their faith who want to take the next step in their spiritual life and deepen their relationship with God.
Next Step Discernment Days teach students how to discern God’s call in their life through talks and testimonies by those living out their various vocations.
There are also five different choirs that students can join that feature different styles of music.