The Catholic Newman Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis is a “safe haven” for Olivia Crowell.
“The thing that helped build my faith was my high school youth group. I knew coming in that I wanted a community to help challenge me in my faith. That’s what our UMSL Newman Center does,” Crowell said.
It’s a place she can go to adoration, talk to campus ministers and read material to help her grow in her knowledge and understanding of her faith. “It’s a very personal path for me,” Crowell said. “They help me with that. Mostly though it’s the community. I talk about my faith with everyone, but it’s a different atmosphere. We can chill, play a Catholic card game, pray a Rosary or talk about anything from our favorite retreat or a cool talk we just listened to.”
Her home parish is Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie. She lives on campus but also takes classes through Washington University in St. Louis, which partners with UMSL in the engineering program.
Building a faith identity
UMSL has a lot of students who come to campus with different routines and struggles than at more residential colleges, said Father Nick Winker, director of the center. “It’s a school with some incredible programs that are worth travelling a good way to go to, but it’s also one that is accessible and affordable for people.”
Many students work nearly full-time jobs, take a full load of courses, study many hours a week and travel a distance to school. “That doesn’t leave much time to breathe,” he said, but they find time to connect with the center’s staff.
The Newman Center seeks to be present to students, offering Masses and a variety of other programs from Bible study to retreats, some during the day and some in the evening.
A faith community of their own is important for the students who are building their faith identity beyond high school, Father Winker added.
UMSL has a lot of students in caring professions, such as nurses, educators, social workers or criminal justice professionals, “about to step into jobs that require a lot of grace,” Father Winker said. “We can say the Church is with you.”
At their home parish, students may not get to know their pastor and vice versa, but on campus “I can see they will set the world on fire with their faith if they keep that spark growing and growing. It’s a special ministry, beautiful to have and be able to do. It takes a lot of work and relies on the ACA (Annual Catholic Appeal) to make it happen. It’s planting seeds, even though we sometimes can’t see those seeds bearing fruit. It’s worth it.”
COVID-19 has tempered some of the programs at the campuses, but it continues according to guidelines. The Awakenings Retreat at UMSL’s Newman Center, on hold temporarily, is known for connecting students to God’s love and the Church’s grace. “Students pray, give testimonies and share in small groups. It just bears a lot of fruit in the way students grow and develop,” said Father Winker, who attended an Awakenings retreat when he was a student at what is now the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
The Catholic Newman Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis — its liturgy, fellowship, prayer, service, faith development and other efforts for college students — wouldn’t exist without the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Father Winker said that about half its budget comes from the Appeal, which also funds Newman Center efforts at other college campuses in the archdiocese. The UMSL campus ministry is also working to staff a program at Webster University, thanks to the ACA. “It really is the means for our ability to have an outreach to college students at UMSL,” Father Winker said. “You can’t just drop that half (of funds) and still have the ability to raise the other half,” he said.