Student finds sense of community in Newman Center

Photo courtesy Sarah Watson
Sarah Watson

My freshman year at UNO was an interesting time for me. I had been raised Catholic right here in Omaha, and the private schools I attended were an instrumental part of my faith journey. Taking the leap into my adult life, I thought I had a good grip on what it meant to be a person of faith. Yet, I didn’t realize what a challenge it would be to live that life of faith while out on my own. To be blunt, I was faced with a lot of temptations that first year. The party lifestyle is enticing, and I struggled to find a balance. I clung to my faith in the hard times and attended mass regularly, but deep down I was searching for something meaningful and more consistent.

Among the stress of finals week during May of my freshman year, I was unsure of my next step, simply knowing that I needed that change I was craving. While driving on Scott Campus, I saw a sign for something called the St. John Paul II Newman Center. I had heard of Newman centers before, and I considered the possibility of moving into a dorm primarily filled with Catholic students. I brushed it off, though, because I had already decided that I was done with dorm life. I dreamed of a cute little apartment or a house filled with my best friends.

That wasn’t the last I heard of the JPII Newman Center, though. My parents had seen the advertisement too, and after a lot of gentle nudging from them, I finally decided to sign up for a tour. I walked through the Newman Center a few months later with my mom, back when it was just a construction site. Yet, the energy was already electric. I knew that was where I belonged.

I made amazing leaps in my faith during that first year. I took ownership of my relationship with God, joined a Bible study and attended The Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ SEEK conference in San Antonio among thousands of other Catholic college students. Fast-forward to today, and I am currently in my second year living at the Newman Center, now working as a resident assistant in the building.

Personally, the Newman Center has changed my life. It has truly brought me back to valuing what is important. I’ve met lifelong friends and grown in my faith so much, and I could not be happier with my decision. Living in a community with like-minded individuals and constant opportunities to grow in my faith has been an amazing experience.

As an RA, my job now is to share with others the amazing opportunities for growth and fellowship that the Newman Center has offered me. I love the time I get to spend here, whether it be going to mass with my friends, enjoying community nights, attending my weekly Bible study or putting on events for my residents. The Newman Center provides a unique experience where, if you accept the opportunities around you, you can integrate faith into every single aspect of your life. Faith is a personal journey, but not one that you have to tackle alone.

I’ve enjoyed a year and a half at the St. John Paul II Newman Center among lifelong, virtuous friends. One of those friendships even blossomed into a relationship, and I am now engaged to my future husband, a guy I met on that very first move-in day. We are currently planning our wedding, which will take place in the JPII Newman Center’s oratory next year. Looking down the road, there’s no doubt in my mind that I will push our own kids with that gentle nudge of my parents to live in the Newman Center. I hope for the same growth in them that the JPII Newman Center has offered me.