Leslie Zander began attending mass at the Newman Center because she felt it was something she should do.
Now, after two years of involvement with the center, Zander said it has given her more than a place to go on Sunday morning: It has given her a community.
“It’s been something to lean on, to trust and to have faith in,” said Zander, a College of Liberal Arts junior.
But members said a decision to merge the center, located at 1701 University Ave. S.E., with the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Dinkytown by Jan. 1 threatens the strength of that community.
The June 2 decision caused turmoil among members of the center.
“I’m very frustrated. I’m very angry, and I’m very hurt,” said Marcia Haggerty, College of Biological Sciences post-baccalaureate student and Newman Center summer intern.
The center’s corporate board made the decision to close the center. Although no official reasons were given for the merger, members speculated that financial constraints and a shortage of ordained ministers contributed to the decision.
Some members questioned the process through which the decision was made. The board, comprised of three ministers and two lay people, made the merger decision independently, without any input from student representatives.
Because of the lack of student involvement in the decision-making process, members claim the imposed merger robs them of a unique Catholic community that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
And members said maintaining that community through the transition is a top priority.
“The displacement of this community is a travesty,” said Joe Pipp, 13-year Newman community member.
But many refuse to give up on the center without a fight. Eighty Newman Center community members formed a coalition called “Save Our Newman Center.” Ultimately, this group hopes to reverse the decision to close the center.
Historically, Pipp said, the Catholic Church does not enter into irreversible decisions — such as marriage — lightly.
“They realize these decisions should be entered into with scrutiny, dialogue and reflection. (The Newman Center closing) is an inconsistency,” Pipp said.
Group efforts include hosting a prayer vigil Saturday entitled, “Vigil for hope and healing.”
They also endorsed a letter-writing campaign aimed at Archbishop Harry Flynn and Apostolic Delegate Agostino Cacciavillan.
Pipp and other members of the Newman community also expressed frustration at the way the news was delivered to members. With no official public announcement, members heard about the merger through press releases and at committee meetings.
“For me, it’s been a really challenging time, but it’s the support from other students that has gotten me through it,” said Kevin Brady, CLA junior and Newman Center summer intern.
Members said the Newman Center’s student-centered focus will be lost in the merger. They also said the structure of St. Lawrence does not conform to the goals of Newman Center members.
“They have a different mission, and I’m sure they serve their mission well. But it is a different mission,” Pipp said.
Students also expressed their concern about the likelihood of St. Lawrence offering them a welcome environment, as a result of recently receiving some disparaging news.
Members said St. Lawrence priest John Behnke told Fintan Moore, lay campus minister at the Newman Center, that his services will not be needed in the new congregation. Neither Moore nor Behnke could be reached for confirmation.
Should efforts to keep the center open fail, some students have turned to the Catholic Student Association as a backup plan.
Members want to use the Catholic Student Association to continue the center’s focus on social justice, which they say may not be accepted by St. Lawrence, a traditional neighborhood parish.
Despite the obstacles they face, members continue to work together to maintain their collective identity.
“We’re a very strong group of people, and I believe we will stick together,” Haggerty said.