by Douglas Rojas

The Newman Center said its last prayer Sunday.
More than 60 people sang, held hands and lit candles as the student Catholic center offered its last mass to the University community Sunday morning.
After serving for about 73 years, the center announced a merger with St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Dinkytown on June 2.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul decided to close the center because of financial difficulties and a shortage of ordained priests. However, the decision drew a strong reaction from the center’s members, who complained at the time that they were excluded from any participation in making the decision.
The sometimes emotional service brought tears to several in the audience.
Father Charlie Martin from Campus Ministries told audience members Sunday’s Mass was an opportunity for members to say thank you to the community and to “those who have enriched your experience at the Newman Center.”
Following the Mass, participants held candles while walking through the building listening to a parishioner recount the history of saints depicted on its walls.
“It was a very difficult moment for a lot of people,” Martin said.
Bod Gronda, a Newman member for the last five years, said the center’s merger may be the right decision, but the transition would be less painful if the community was involved in the decision.
“It’s not the way you govern, it’s not the way you lead. I scratched my head and asked, ‘Who runs an organization like this in the 20th century?'” said Gronda, whose wife is a University graduate student.
The Newman Center corporate board — a body of members appointed by the archbishop — made the merger decision without consulting the community-elected board of trustees. This point remains at the heart of most of the complaints concerning the transition.
The decision sparked a campaign where community members were asked to write letters to the archbishop. Despite collecting about 830 signatures and more than 200 letters through July, the merger was confirmed by the middle of August.
Like many in the community, Gronda heard about the merger in the newspaper. So far, he and his family don’t know what parish they are going to attend next.
But many members of the Newman Center are choosing to go to the St. Frances Cabrini Church on 1500 Franklin Ave. S.E.
For Molly Zahn, a Catholic Student Association member and a religious studies junior, St. Frances church offered her a more welcoming environment than St. Lawrence.
“I feel that there wasn’t as much respect during the transition,” Zahn said. Giving up the space at the Newman Center is foolish because it’s a great location for students, she added.
Dorothy Leather, an active member of the Newman Center for 30 years, said although there are good people at St. Lawrence, the transition was not handled carefully.
“It was too bad the way things happened — too much pain,” Leather said.
Still, Martin thinks that the campus ministries will continue to work well at the new church. Most students are finding the church without trouble, he said.
The appropriate people made the decision, which he thinks was best for the community, Martin said.