Newman Center should support faith, not sacrifice diversity


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Jessica Wade

Summer of last year the Archdioceses of Omaha broke ground on a massive building project with the intention to provide a place where Catholic students attending UNO can celebrate and practice their faith. Fourteen months, 164 beds and around $25 million later, St. John Paul II Newman Center is born.

An impressive four-story building built on 3.5 acres of land, the center is located at 71st and Pacific, neighboring the university’s Pacific Campus. It features a chapel, prayer garden, residence for two priests and a new UNO campus ministry office. The building will greatly benefit Catholic students, but it will also benefit the university by providing apartment-style housing for the increasing student population, many of whom are on a wait list for campus housing. The extra accommodations should also help UNO achieve its goal of increasing the student population to 20,000 by 2020.

The brand-new apartments are fully furnished and include basic cable as well as a free laundry facility. A four-bedroom apartment is $590/ month plus a $200 deposit, a price comparable to UNO’s housing, of which the cheapest option is $575 per month. The center is still taking applications and will be move-in ready Aug. ♡.

While close to campus, the center has not been built on university property. Because it is a public
university, UNO also has no financial stake in the project, which is funded exclusively by a nonprofit organization and local fundraising. The costs of building the center and keeping it operating will mostly be paid by the rent charged to tenants,and with the help of some fundraising, it will soon become a self-sustaining organization.

Expanding beyond the first Newman Center, which was built for the University of Pennsylvania in 1893,
hundreds of Newman Centers have been built by the Catholic church near non-Catholic or public universities all over the world with the intention to keep students rooted in their faith.

For many students, college is a time of personal growth and exploration. Having a place to practice and celebrate their faith is great. These centers provide a sense of community and emotional support for Catholic students, many of whom are experiencing life on their own for the first time. With these benefits in mind however, there is the possibility that these same students will not challenge themselves to reach beyond their own spiritual comfort zones and experience new ideas and beliefs. Coming into contact with other cultures and religions is important in that the process teaches students how to share beliefs and celebrate differences with respect and understanding.

St. John Paul II Newman Center claims to be open to people of all faiths, hopefully that will prove to be true. Catholics make up a large demographic of UNO students, but the university is still a public institution. While this new addition to the Asksarben area appears to be a win for both the school and the Catholic community, optimistically the center will find a way to support faith without sacrificing diversity.