By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — “United in Christ” will be the battle cry of Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa in the coming years.
“We have talked about having a strong vision that we can work toward as a team, with everyone working towards the same goal,” said Kristie Wert, director of development.
This vision is coming into focus, thanks to recent strategic planning sessions. Strategic planning is a process of setting priorities, focusing energy and resources, strengthening operations and ensuring that staff and other stakeholders are working toward common goals.
The Newman Catholic Student Center provides campus ministry to the 7,000+ Catholic students as well as students of all faiths associated with the University of Iowa. Centrally located on campus, Newman Center offers daily Mass, Bible studies, service and social justice opportunities, retreats, the rosary and adoration, student leadership opportunities, fellowship, fun and a family atmosphere.
Earlier this summer, everyone on Newman Center’s mailing list had the opportunity to identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The surveys included space for additional comments and suggestions. “It was evident the passion everyone has for our Newman Center to be successful and thrive,” Wert observed. While criticism can be tough to swallow, it raises awareness about possible misperceptions and also shows what “we can change or make better.”
A group of Newman Center staff, student leaders, board members and priests gathered for two days in July to review the surveys and set priorities. Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula, who serves Newman Center as board chairman, participated the first day. “These two days included a lot of brainstorming and discussion and it was great to have a diverse group to work together on this process,” Wert said.
The group worked to address six critical questions:
- Why do we (Newman Center) exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important right now?
- Who must do what?
The reason for Newman Center’s existence — making disciples — was easy to answer, Wert said. Regarding the behavior of the Newman Center community, “we want to be bold, loving and unstoppable.” The group addressed positive forces and barriers to success, proposing a three-year plan to improve Newman Center’s culture, communication and building. Some of the questions will continue to be discussed and tweaked in the coming months, Wert said.
Sacred Heart Consulting, a Nebraska-based firm that focuses on helping Newman Centers succeed, helped participants maximize their time together. “I’m impressed with the people we brought in to help us remember why we exist and what we do here and how we act here,” said Father Jeff Belger, Newman Center’s priest director. With a clear focus, “we can make better decisions on what we do and don’t do. It isn’t a decision on what is good or bad. That is easy. It is between the many good things that we could fill our calendar with and what is best for our students.”
Student Kolbe Schnoebelen believes the strategic planning meeting was a big success. “We discussed what has been going well, and we shared our thoughts about what we could be doing better. I think that we have a solid plan moving forward, and I am excited to see all that we accomplish this year and in the years to come.”
As Newman Center works to focus its decisions and programming, unity will be key. However, this doesn’t mean uniformity in religious expression, Father Belger emphasized. Like the wider University of Iowa community, Newman Center members have unique viewpoints and ways of expressing their Catholic faith. “We want to be diverse, but not divided,” he said, “What we need to promote is that which allows growth in an individual and in our ministry to the students.”
“Though we may have differences, we all are united in Christ by the Gospel,” Schnoebelen said. “We want to strive to welcome as many students as we can into the Newman Center.”