Center’s closing has secular implications

There has been considerable speculation about the motives behind the closing of the Newman Center, the 73-year-old Roman Catholic student center on University Avenue. The Archdiocese of St. Paul says that the center was closed due to financial difficulties. On the other hand, some members of the Center’s congregation feel the closing was fueled by conflicts between the archdiocese and the center. Lay members participated directly in masses, an unconventional practice that had been going on for years, which offended two Paulist priests who joined the center in 1997.
Whatever the real reason for the closing of the Newman Center, its end is a tragedy that will be felt by not only the 300 to 400 students that attended masses at the center, but also by all University students.
The Newman Center was characterized by progressive masses that catered to the needs of students. Some have described the center as being socially and religiously progressive. Sensitive issues such as poverty, homelessness and homosexual rights were covered during masses and in center activities. Circular seating and sharing of Holy Communion at the end of Mass were practices outside the Catholic mainstream.
The center hosted many programs aimed at aiding a diverse range of students. Last spring the center hosted a series called “At the Table” which spoke out against homophobia. A 30-hour fast was scheduled for this November whose proceeds were to go to a hunger organization. There were also ongoing events such as Spanish classes and several weekly lecture series.
In addition to serving the congregation, the center has been working to improve the community as a whole. Resource Center of the Americas, an advocacy and education group focused on Latin America; Open Arms, a group that provided meals to people with AIDS and HIV; and Dignity, a group supporting gay and lesbian Catholics, all call the Newman Center home. The Cafe of the Americas, a nonprofit organization which serves inexpensive meals, was an important supplement to the Newman Center. This 2-year-old cafe serves 200 people daily and was voted the best place around campus to get lunch for under $5 by Daily readers in 1996. Tentatively, the cafe will close with the sale of the Newman Center building and does not plan to be open in 1999.
Although there are a number of other Roman Catholic churches in the area, none serves the needs of students like the Newman Center did. By being sensitive to student concerns, the Newman Center was able to fill a unique role in the religious community around campus. There is hope for the future though. Students displaced by the closing of the Newman Center are talking about restarting the Catholic Student Association and continuing the community service programs. Hopefully, with the reignition of this group the strong, progressive Catholic presence will not be lost.
The University community has lost an important resource with the closing of the Newman Center. Although this decision cannot be reversed, it is in the best interest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul to support the Catholic Student Association in its work to carry on in the tradition of the Newman Center.