Saskatchewan Newman Centre turns 80

By  Michael De Jong, Youth Speak News
  • November 20, 2006
SASKATOON, Sask.  - St. Thomas More College on the University of Saskatchewan campus celebrates an important anniversary this year as the college's Newman Centre turns 80 years old. Since 1926, it has served as a Catholic presence on campus, fostering the spiritual growth of the students there.

"What drew me to the Newman Centre was the idea of being on a student council for the first time, plus it looks good on a resume," said Amber Robert, current president of the Newman Centre. "What kept me there were the great friendships I developed and the feeling of accomplishing something greater with a group than I could by myself."

Newman Centres started in 1888 when a Catholic society formed at Oxford University in England, naming itself the Newman Society after Cardinal John Henry Newman. It was inspired by his ideas about teaching the liberal arts at universities and his advancement of Catholicism on campus. The Newman Movement aimed to bring about a Catholic presence at secular universities and to help stimulate spiritual growth among students — the motto "cor ad cor loquitur" means "heart speaks to heart"  which is the key theme of the movement.

Soon this idea spread overseas, and in 1905, the first Canadian Newman Centre was formed at the University of Toronto, complete with its own building. Soon other Newman Centres formed at McGill University in Montreal, Queens University in Kingston, Ont., the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia. Many more formed in the United States.

In the 1960s, the various Newman Centres and Catholic college chaplaincies began holding national and regional conferences, bridging communications between the groups and forging nationwide bonds. Now, such meetings are held mostly at the national and regional conferences of the Canadian Catholic Students' Association. Still, however, the individual Newman Centres seem to do their own thing, without much of a unified national identity.

"As with any campus club there's a cyclical nature to the leadership. You might get some years with a charismatic and active president and some years without," said Richard Medernach, Newman Centre president at the University of Saskatchewan from 1999 to 2001.

One of the challenges Medernach has encountered is trying to garner interest on the social side of things for the Newman Centre.

"It's difficult to show to people that you can be about liturgy and social justice, while at the same time having fun and drinking beer."

In September,  the University of Saskatchewan's Newman Centre celebrated its anniversary with a birthday bash for all its members and campus ministry partners in lieu of the annual membership appreciation night, with birthday cake and games. While there are no plans for any other special events for the anniversary, the Newman Centre will continue with its schedule of coffeehouses and liturgy for the coming year.

(De Jong, 21, studies English at the University of Saskatchewan.)

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