Newman Center: despite changes, mission stays the same

Social distancing at Mass is one of many changes at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Newman Catholic Student Center’s ministries may look different as University of Iowa students return to campus, but the message remains the same. “Keep Jesus as the center, he is unchanging,” said Father Jeff Belger, priest director. “The mission stays the same, but the context changes. We still do what we are called to do.”

One of the major objectives for Newman Center each fall is to engage new students, said Christine Wissink, director of outreach and education. Staff knew they might not be able to rely on the usual back-to-school events and activities this year, due to the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Especially with social distancing and a lack of in-person events, we really needed to reach out individually to students.”

This year, as in the past, Newman Center sent postcards to incoming students. Student leaders and FOCUS missionaries have also been making contact with incoming Catholic students through phone calls, emails and letters to increase personal outreach. These interactions are intended to welcome students and encourage them to get involved at Newman Center, Wissink said.


New students will be able to attend Mass and prayer services in-person when classes resume, as space allows. Students must reserve weekend Mass spots online on Eventbrite. Father Belger will continue to broadcast Masses on the Newman Center’s YouTube channel for students who wish to participate remotely.

Some regular events will be modified to avoid congestion in and around Newman Center and to promote social distancing. Newman Center staff, volunteers and student leaders are busy making 200 welcome bags full of “Newman goodies,” including pens, magnets and stickers, brochures, prayer bookmarks, face masks and FOCUS information, Wissink said. Students can stop by and pick them up during small group tours Aug. 19, 20 and 21. This is a change from the past, when tables were set up outside of Newman Center with hot dogs, root beer floats and other goodies to draw in crowds of students throughout the week. Students will be required to wear masks, per university requirements.

The annual “New Year” retreat will still take place, but in smaller groups instead of one large group. Meals will be served “to-go” style, Wissink said.  Newman Center Masses and events will be advertised on digital displays in the dorms. Newman Center is also increasing its social media outreach.
While some things may be different, “we’re still really pumped,” Wissink said. “You never know what’s going to happen in life. The fact that we’ve reached out to students and done our best will be good in the long run.”

Gala moves online

Newman Catholic Student Center’s annual gala was supposed to take place in May. After the pandemic hit in mid-March, the event was pushed back to August in hopes that it would be safe to host the event at that time. However, with COVID-19 continuing to spread, the Newman Center ultimately decided to transition from an in-person

event to a “virtual gala” which will take place online Aug. 22 from 7-8 p.m.
Ron Steele, news anchor for KWWL in Waterloo and a 1973 graduate of the University of Iowa, will serve as emcee for the event. Guests can buy raffle tickets with a chance to win $5,000, $750 or $250. The evening will include live and silent auctions. The Newman Center will also reveal its Stewardship Award recipient. Information on how

to participate in the virtual gala is available at https://one.
The downside of this approach is that people won’t be able to gather in the same room, said April Rouner, development director. However, the virtual format will allow people from all over the U.S. to participate. “We’ve been able to open it up, and that’s the positive. We’re keeping people safe at the same time.”

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