By Barb Arland-Fye
My husband Steve and I accepted an invitation to attend “Newman Night Out 2023,” an event to raise funds, build awareness and tell the story of the Newman Catholic Student Center on the
University of Iowa campus. Shortly before the April 22 event, I asked Kristie Wert, Newman Center’s development director, if she could add our son Colin, who is autistic, to the guest list. Usually, his “night out” on weekends is with his family. When special occasions arise, we depend on our younger son Patrick to provide Colin’s night out. However, I did not realize Patrick would be out of town that night.
Kristie graciously agreed to our request and Steve and I prepared Colin for the change in plans, creating a sense of excitement about a mini road trip, attending Mass at a church he hadn’t visited (St. Patrick-Iowa City) and dining in the parish hall. We told him it was a dress-up occasion, which elevated his enthusiasm.
Colin arrived at our house sporting a fresh haircut and wearing a nice button-down shirt, jacket, dress slacks and dress shoes. We would be traveling on Interstate 80, a favorite for our map-obsessed son. The momentum for a wonderful night out was building.
The church building impressed him and he enjoyed Mass. He told me he liked the readings (Third Sunday of Easter). After Mass, we walked into the elegantly decorated parish hall and found our table. Our party of two that unexpectedly became a party of three required a table reassignment, which meant we had a table to ourselves. That may have been a blessing. Colin has a conversation style of rapid-fire questions that can leave his conversation partners exhausted.
During childhood, large gatherings of people distressed Colin because of the din and activity. His brain struggled to process all of the extra stimulation. Now, he enjoys being in a large gathering, provided he has some extra space. Other guests approached our table to talk. Later, Colin told me he enjoyed meeting many people when, in actuality, he met a small number of people. Their reaching out to us made his day.
Colin and I took a tour of the church building while waiting for our dinner and to his delight, he discovered a bookcase in the lower level filled with spiritual books. “The Life of Christ,” he exclaimed as he spotted a book by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Colin also saw a Bible and picked it up. He already has that particular Bible, thank goodness, or he might have asked to borrow it.
He enjoyed his lasagna meal and afterwards listened to speakers share their stories about the Newman Center’s impact on their lives. Senior Hannah Dake spoke movingly about how the Newman Center has blessed her life, but the thing that stood out for Colin was Hannah sharing that she is moving to Des Moines. Destinations matter most to Colin, the atlas king.
Alumni speaker Jon Wisnieski also shared details about how the Newman Center shaped his life. Colin remembered that Jon played football for the University of Iowa, although that was not a significant part of his story. Colin enjoyed listening to the other speakers, student emcees Megan Wessels and Andrew Simaz and Howard Kerr, who with his wife Patricia, received the 2023 Newman Catholic Student Award. Colin loves to hear the details of people’s lives.
The Newman Singers & Ensemble provided an upbeat conclusion to Newman Night Out and to Colin’s night out.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)