Collection shines a light on Newman Catholic Student Center

Megan Wessels
University of Iowa students participate in a Candlemas blessing and procession at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City Feb. 2.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa graduate Cade Naughton is helping form the next generation of Catholics as a youth minister at St. John the Baptist Parish in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He credits the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City for playing a “tremendous role” in his faith life. “It gave me a chance to live out my identity as a son of God, and I had the opportunity to dive more deeply and personally into my faith and understanding of Christ.”

Newman Center’s “aura of virtue and excellence” provided strength and support to Cade and his wife, Brynne, whom he met at Thursday Night Mass. Brynne works as a Catholic school teacher and is expecting the couple’s first child soon. “Living out Catholicism in a lukewarm way was always an option, but we held each other accountable to strive for greater,” Cade said. They look forward to sharing the faith as a family.

All diocesan parishes will take up a special collection Feb. 11-12 to support the Newman Center’s faith community. Through educational programs, social justice activities, retreats, active participation in the liturgy and leadership opportunities, Newman Center strives to help students become disciples for the Church and the world.


The “Newman Center Surround, Support & Strengthen Appeal” is in its second year. Diocesan officials said the collection is a direct response to Pew research showing that up to 80% of Catholics who leave the faith do so by age 23. Those who participate in campus ministry are much more likely to remain in the faith and transition into active parish life following graduation.

The Newman Center’s priest director, Father Jeff Belger, said the center is committed to preparing faith-filled leaders who will make an impact on their future families, parishes, workplaces and communities. “As I look at the needs of the Church and the world, I realize that if we are to be a blessing, it will come from the fact that we have, in our relationship with Jesus Christ, the remedy for every challenge the Church and the world faces. We must be convinced of this to our core. More than that, we must be convinced that Jesus is sending us out, not to work for him, but to work from him. One of my great joys is hearing from alumni who have realized this. Their lives become a great adventure, not unlike the 70 disciples who came back to Jesus rejoicing in all that they had accomplished in his name.”

Jonathan Wisnieski, a 2017 graduate, is a campus minister at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. He leads the Ut Fidem ministry, which helps students “deepen their faith in high school so they can keep their faith through their college years.” Over Christmas break, he joined the school chaplain and six students on a discernment pilgrimage to Iceland.

During his college years, Newman Center provided Jonathan a faith community where he could confront the “trials and travails” of university life. Newman Center’s proximity to the University of Iowa campus “sends the message that faith is not meant to be on the peripheries of our college experience but rather at the heart of it. I am indebted to Father Jeff, the Newman Center staff and the students I met there for accompanying me during my time at Iowa. I can’t imagine my college years without them.”

Jasmin Tone, a 2017 graduate, is the director of faith formation at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. She was an active Catholic prior to enrolling at the University of Iowa and hoped to find a Catholic community that would nurture her faith. Newman Center was a “home away from home” where she could ask questions and have candid conversations without fear of judgment.

Jasmin had the opportunity to participate in retreats, see Pope Francis during his visit to Philadelphia, and form close connections with other students. “Those experiences helped to shape my expectations for Masses and Church life. They also taught me what it looks like to take initiative and be involved at a parish.” Her positive experience as Newman Center’s Faith Formation Fellow during the 2016-17 academic year influenced her decision to pursue a call to ministry formation.

Recent University of Iowa graduates who are also living out their Catholic faith include Jessica Elliot, who recently entered the Community of Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, and Lucero Manzanares, one of eight Newman Center graduates serving as FOCUS missionaries nationwide. Both women shared testimonies in a recent Newman Center e-newsletter. Jessica credited Newman Center for having a major impact during a pivotal time in her life. Lucero wrote that a piece of her heart would always be at the Newman Center.

The Newman Center is 100% self-funded through private donations, investments, grants, fundraising events and appeals such as the diocesan special collection, last held in October 2021. “That first special collection was successful and has helped cover some of the increased expenses that have been a result of more students becoming actively involved,” said development director Kristie Wert. “We are so thankful to the parishioners across the diocese for their support and prayer.”

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