Newman Center Gala casts a wide net

Barb Arland-Fye
Members of the Newman Singers & Ensemble in Iowa City sing during the Newman Gala April 22.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa students wearing yellow T-shirts with the Newman Catholic Student Center acronym NCSC enthusiastically checked in guests, sold raffle tickets, snapped photos and performed other tasks for the Newman Center Gala. Other Newman Center students performed with verve as the Newman Singers & Ensemble during the April 22 gala that drew 190 attendees to Iowa Memorial Union on the university’s campus.

“How impactful to have the students there and serving the donors that give to the Newman Center,” said new Director of Development Kristie Wert. The gala generated $90,000 for the general mission and ministries of Newman Center and an additional $19,500 for “Fund A Cause” (the Laudato Si’ care for our common home initiative).

Students shared their deep appreciation for the Newman Center and the donors who make it possible. “Newman has been home to us,” said Rachel Lacy, as she stood on stage with her gala co-emcee, Grant Hemphill. Both are seniors who spoke about the impact of the Newman Center on their lives.


“When I was asked to serve on the gala committee and be one of the emcees for this event, it was one of the easiest ‘yeses.’ I was excited for the opportunity to give back to and advocate for the community that has given me so much in my time at Iowa,” Lacey said. “Throughout my college career, Newman has consistently been a place that has supported me through every endeavor and challenged me to keep my values and faith at the center of all I do. I can confidently say that I would not have the faith and relationship with God that I do now if it wasn’t for the Newman Center. The mission of the Newman Center is to create disciples for the Church and the world, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to a part of that.”

Hemphill said FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries who serve the Newman Center helped him “to take ownership of my faith.” He is grateful to the Newman Center students who, in appreciation, raised funds to be one of the $1,000 gala sponsors and an additional $500 for Fund A Cause. Their generosity makes it possible for other students to grow in their faith, he said.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula, in a prayer before dinner, reflected on the day’s Gospel passage. “While on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus tells his disciples to cast the net over the right side of the boat. When they do, they are not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.”

“This passage correlates closely with the gala’s theme — Cast Wide the Net — and Newman Center’s mission to be fishers of young men and women, and thereby ‘prepare disciples for our Church and our world.’” He asked God “that your Spirit open our hearts in generous stewardship and inspire us to do our part to help the center to assist students at a time in their lives when they are searching and learning.”

“I think it’s so cool to see all of these people investing in us as a community,” said senior Zach Vig, a Newman Center fellow in faith formation. He assisted with the gala’s set-up, registration, auction and break down. Joining a Newman Center Bible study as a freshman introduced him to people who broke the stereotype he had about “godly people.” The sense of community is the best he has known. “I’ve grown more in my faith than I ever thought I would,” added Vig, a former altar server who remembers serving at Mass for then-Father Zinkula in Mount Vernon.

Sophomore Emily Munger, a fellow in liturgical ministry for the coming academic year, began attending a Newman Center Bible study as a freshman with her roommate. That led to her attending daily Mass, a practice she continues. “This is the first time I took (the Catholic faith) seriously as my own person.” Newman Center helped her to grow confident in her faith. “I don’t hide it anymore. I wear this yellow shirt and it says ‘Catholic.’ I’m not afraid to wear it on campus.” “Newman,” she said, has helped her see “God’s presence everywhere.”

Christine Wissink, Newman Center’s director of Outreach and Education, said the gala “in many ways makes visible the community that supports the students and enables us to do the ministry we do.”

Olga Sassine and her sister and brother-in-law, Doris and Frank Abboud, received Newman Center’s 2022 Stewardship Award for putting service above self. Sassine said she is thankful for the opportunities available to Newman Center students and paid tribute to Newman’s Priest Director Father Jeff Belger and former Development Director April Rouner “who have demonstrated the best for our students.” Doris Abboud said students need guidance as they move away from their parents and need a place to congregate and share experiences in their faith. The Newman Center provides that opportunity.

“What gets me excited to go to work every day is that we’re attracting more and more disciples,” Father Belger said. “We’re making disciple makers. We’re teaching students how to share their faith, move out into the world, grow together and come together at Mass to bond that community.”

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