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Student religion on campus: Newman and InterVarsity

Originally published November 5, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the last  in a three-part series exploring student participation in religion on campus.

SAINT JOSEPH NEWMAN CENTER

The Newman Center is home to the only religious community with a building right on campus, and offers Catholic students a comfortable and convenient hangout.

“My religion is something that has always been important to me,” said sophomore mechanical engineering major Amanda Ranftl. “I like to take time away from myself to spend with God. To me, the Catholic community on campus is my home away from home.”

The Newman Center offers students plenty of room for lounging, access to a full kitchen, a library full of donated books and a small chapel.

“There are always about 10 or 15 people here hanging out between classes,” said David Buckles, the president of services at Newman. “When I am not studying I am usually here too.”

Senior family and consumer science major Desiree Carroll said the Newman Center has offered her many outlets and support from the struggles of college.

“The Newman Center helped me out so much,” Carroll said. “Freshman and sophomore year was tough and I had a lot of different struggles that my faith helped me get through. If you don’t have faith I don’t know how you can wake up without knowing there is a God that loves you.”

Carroll said the Newman Center was the only organization on campus that gave her acceptance.

“It is important to explore who you are and you can do that through your faith,” she said. “For me, Newman felt very accepting coming from the culture of my sorority.”

There are several other groups that work through the Newman Center including FOCUS or the Fellowship Of Catholic University Students. This organization is comprised of Catholic missionaries, which are recent college graduates, who dedicate two years to work at universities across the country.

Joanna Brady is one of six missionaries who are currently working with Bradley’s FOCUS group and leads small group Bible studies. Brady said it absolutely necessary that students keep up with their faith during college.

“College is a very pivotal time in everyone’s lives, it’s when you make some of the biggest decisions of your life,” she said. “If you fall away from faith in college it is really hard to go back to when you need help.”

Sophomore nursing major Melissa Nussbaum said she decided to become a part of FOCUS for friendship within her faith.

“I joined FOCUS for the people,” she said. “I really like everyone who was in it and they asked me to join. FOCUS is a way for me to keep up with my faith and keep on track. It’s a support system.”

In addition to prayer groups and other gatherings which take place during the week, the Newman Center hosts Mass for students at 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 12 p.m. on Fridays in the Newman Chapel. A student Mass is hosted at 9 p.m. every Sunday at St. Mark’s Church.

“The 9 p.m. Sunday Mass is easier for me and allows me to sleep in and still go to Mass that day,” said sophomore health science major Kyle Dodge. “It is also cool to see all the students at church with me.”

In addition to a place to hangout, Buckles said Newman offered him and his friends a place to grow and learn about their faith together.

“At the Newman Center I was able to draw upon the wisdom of those older and wiser than I,” he said. “That helped rid me of presumptions in my faith and see things as they are.”

Dodge said he turns to his faith when he needs help.

“Anytime something bad happened or there was trouble, like last year I kept switching my major and I was worried if I would graduate on time, I turned to prayer,” he said. “It is something to turn to and grow with, it is all a part of the college experience.”

INTERVARSITY

Every Tuesday evening, about 25 students meet in the Alumni Dining Room of the Michel Student Center not only to worship together.

“Freshman year I tried out many of the groups I found at the activities fair and went to a few meetings,” said senior music business major Abby House. “I started to make friends here [at InterVarsity] and I found that it was wholesome with values I had too. It feels like all of my closest friends from college are here.”

In these large group worships, students join together to sing and pray together in unity.

After a Bible reading and lesson, a corner of the room transforms into a mini-stage.

For the rest of worship, several guitarists and vocalist perform up-beat contemporary prayer-like songs while lyrics are protected on to a screen behind them; allowing everyone to sing along.

Senior health science major Megan Lewellen said she enjoys singing and listening to live music as part of her worship.

“I think it is fun,” she said. “It is just a different way of being in a worship mood.”

Contrary to the prayer of other religions, the large majority of the students joined the student musicians and sang along. One song the group performed was “Center” by Charlie Hall, an artist who has recently been touring with a band.

“We are a more contemporary Christian group,” House said. “We appreciate the traditional stuff but it is fun to have new music. The words are the important part.”

Junior mechanical engineering major Andrew Puhr said he enjoys coming to InterVarsity events because it is a lot like the youth groups he was involved in during high school.

“InterVarsity has been there for me since the beginning when I wasn’t really involved with any Christian group on campus,” he said. “They helped me with the good and the bad. As corny as it sounds, it was like a family. It reminded me a lot of the youth group I had when I was in high school and that’s why I kept coming back fairly regularly after my first large group.”

Lewellen said when she transferred to Bradley, InterVarsity was one way she met friends.

“InterVarsity is a nice break during the week for spiritual time and it is refreshing,” Lewellen said. “It was such a nice way for me to meet people who shared the same values as me because I was a transfer student.”

In addition to large group worship InterVarsity meets several times through small group Bible studies.

Puhr said he has been a small group Bible study leader for three semesters and sees it as an opportunity to reach out to students on campus like past InterVarsity leaders have done for him.

“Small group Bible study is important to me personally because it is a time where I can stop being an engineer and actually read, study and discuss the Bible and learn things that I didn’t have before,” he said. “I like being a leader because it’s an opportunity to reach out on campus to others and do for them what a leader before did for me. If it wasn’t for that leader coming to my door freshman year inviting me to her small group, I wouldn’t be a leader or as involved in InterVarsity or my faith for that matter as I am now.”

Puhr said he believes staying true to your faith lightens the load and the stress of college life.

“The sad truth is a lot of students lose their faith when they come to college just because their parents are no longer dragging them to church,” he said. “I think it is important to keep your faith because life is stressful enough as a college student and having faith really does keep you less stressed and having that community really does help carry you through those hard times you have.

”Regardless of what group you become involved with or even if it’s just you and a couple friends who hang out and discuss religion and the Bible, having a way to keep up with your faith really does make life a little easier even if you don’t see it at the time,” Puhr said.