Newman Night Out celebrates Catholic community

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Barb Arland-Fye
University of Iowa student Hannah Dake speaks during Newman Night Out at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City April 22.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Young adult Catholics shared their heartfelt stories of faith strengthened in community at the Newman Catholic Student Center during Newman Night Out 2023. St. Patrick Parish hosted the social fundraiser April 22 that aimed to build awareness and tell the story of the Newman Center, located in the heart of the University of Iowa campus.

The event began with Mass in the Church before moving into the parish hall for dinner, testimonials and a performance by the Newman Singers & Ensemble led by Joe Mattingly, the Newman Center’s music director.

Student speaker Hannah Dake recalled attending her first Newman Center retreat as a freshman after hearing the priest director, Father Jeff Belger say, “This could be where you meet some of your best friends. You should probably go.” Now a senior and the event’s student speaker, she turned toward the priest and said, “Father Jeff, I hate to say this, but you’re right!”

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During the retreat, “I found a vibrant faith community of college kids just like me who were running after the Lord. The retreat was an answer to prayer,” said Dake, who also spoke about the spiritual growth she has experienced at the Newman Center. She has led and participated in Bible study and discipleship, attended retreats and worked on leadership teams.

“Like many other students during long days on campus, Newman is my place of rest,” Dake said. “Whether we’re in need of a place to study, a snack or meal to eat, a friend willing to listen or a priest to administer the sacraments, Newman provides for us. Newman provides for us because all of you provide for us,” she said. The Newman Center provides her with the confidence to embrace her faith as moves on to life after graduation.

Wisnieski

Jon Wisnieski, who earned his BA (2017) and MA (2018) from the U of I, remembers meeting Father Ed Fitzpatrick, the Newman Center’s priest director at the time, on a campus visit. From that moment on, Father Fitzpatrick “always remembered my name. That meant a lot,” Wisnieski told the gathering.

As a football player for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisnieski joked that he practiced more football than he played on the field, in part because of an injury he sustained his freshman year. He participated in an evangelical Christian ministry for athletes while also attending weekly Mass at the Newman Center. Questions his evangelical Christian friends asked about the Catholic faith deepened his interest in theology and a desire to study apologetics. “When I finished with football, I was able to dive into the Newman Center,” he said. His intellectual and spiritual curiosity grew “and the Newman Center was really able to feed into that.”

Wisnieski later earned an MA in theology and spent six months in Colorado to discern a vocation with a community of Dominicans. Now he works at his alma mater, Dowling High School in West Des Moines, with Ut Fidem (Keep the Faith), which strives to develop high school students into intentional disciples who will keep the faith for the rest of their lives.

The Newman Center laid the foundation, serving as a beacon of light in the center of campus, which sends a message that “the Catholic Church is here and we’re here to stay,” Wisnieski said. As an anchor, the Newman Center “provided a sense of stability, that foundation that I really needed at that point in my life. I am so, so thankful for the time I spent here,” Wisnieski said.

Student emcees Megan Wessels (class of 2023) and Andrew Simaz (class of 2025), also shared their appreciation for the Newman Center and its impact on their lives. Wessels is grateful for the friends she has made and whose “lives are rooted in Christ.”  Simaz expressed gratitude for the availability of eucharistic adoration and being able to “spend time with Our Lord in prayer” during a stressful week.

Howard Kerr (class of 1960) and his wife, Patricia, a Marquette University graduate, received the Newman Center’s 2023 Stewardship Award “in acknowledgement of their tremendous support of the Newman Catholic Student Center,” Director of Development Kristie Wert said. The couple especially appreciated attending Mass at the Newman Center. “The Masses were something you could take home and talk about and pray about,” Howard said.

Father Belger also addressed the gathering, sharing how the Newman Center has inspired and enriched the faith lives of U of I students. Some are discerning a call to the priesthood, others have accepted a call to religious life and still others are embracing marriage as a vocation guided and graced by God and his Church. Seven have become FOCUS missionaries after graduation.

“I am seeing the joy in a measure I have not seen,” Father Belger said. “I see it being started, nurtured and magnified by the community of the Newman Catholic Student Center. These examples are the fruit of what we do. To describe all of our varied activities, service opportunities, formational talks, Bible studies and music opportunities is more than I have time to do tonight. When I think of the Newman Center, I don’t think of a ministry that is re-inventing anything.  I think of a ministry that is re-discovering everything.”


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