What Newman Centers Owe Their Namesake (Part 2)

Interview With Oratorian Priest, Director of Newman Institute

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By Kathleen Naab

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, AUG. 31, 2010 (Zenit.org).- College students are caught up in the whirlwind of contemporary culture with all its lures. The Church provides a counter-culture, and Newman Centers are one of the loci for this culture, suggests Oratorian Father Drew Morgan.

The provost of the Pittsburgh Oratory of St. Philip Neri made this suggestion when he spoke with ZENIT about the legacy of Cardinal John Henry Newman as it is found in Newman Centers — Catholic centers for university students.

As an Oratorian priest, Father Morgan is a member of Cardinal Newman’s own congregation. Leading up to the cardinal’s September beatification, ZENIT asked Father Morgan about the mark the English convert has left on the world of the Church in universities.

In addition to sharing Cardinal Newman’s spirituality, the Pennsylvania-native priest served for 15 years at one of the Newman Centers with the best reputations in the United States. Father Morgan was ordained for the Oratory in 1985 and has a 1997 doctorate from Duquesne University where he wrote his dissertation on Cardinal Newman’s understanding of conscience. He is presently the director of the National Institute for Newman Studies.

Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.

ZENIT: College life in the United States can be such a testing ground — a time either for students to grow in their faith, or possibly to abandon it altogether. What are the challenges in ministering to college students, given the particular environment surrounding them? And what are the keys to success?

Father Morgan: This is true for Catholic students whether they are attending a secular or a Catholic institution. Unfortunately, college life reflects the standard of our contemporary culture, with all of its lures of self-indulgence found in consumerism, individualism and hedonism. The work of the Church is to provide a counter-culture. The standard of Christ contradicts these influences, challenging the faithful to embrace charity, community and self-control.

We have found that the strongest influence upon young people is the Eucharist. A spirituality that draws them to an intimate communion with Christ, whether that is through Eucharistic Adoration, daily Mass, or participation in the community’s daily prayer, is the best defense against losing one’s faith. A corollary to this is the support that the student would receive from ministers and fellow Catholics who are also struggling, but successfully, to maintain their life of faith. Newman Centers are intended to be the locus for this work of the Church.

ZENIT: How do you envision the student’s relationship to the Newman center? Is it a type of parish, a place to attend Sunday Mass? A Christ-centered home away from home?

Father Morgan: Interestingly, Newman ministry was originally a diocesan endeavor. The priest whose parish was located near a secular institution became the de facto Newman chaplain. On Catholic campuses, the religious order would provide campus ministry through the priests, brothers and sisters who administered their own institution of higher learning. The first Newman centers were a significant dimension of the local parish, where the students would often dominate the congregation during the semesters. It was their parish home-away-from-home. The degree to which the priest could become occupied with the students’ concerns would dictate the success of that ministry.

When the presence of American Catholics on the campuses increased so dramatically, the dioceses would often assign a priest in a separate facility, specifically designed for the needs of the students and thereby effectively establish a new community of faith centered on college life. Today, there is a growing interest in building Newman student housing, such as has been accomplished at the University of Illinois.

This new vision of building Catholic student residences alongside the Newman Center fulfills Newman’s original intention of providing a Catholic community and even a Catholic collegium at the heart of a secular college campus, as he desired to have built at Oxford.

ZENIT: Working in a Newman Center gives you an interesting insight into the future of the Church. How do you see that future?

Father Morgan: If we were to accept the evaluation of John Allen’s work, «The Future Church,» though the Church is booming in the southern hemisphere, Catholicism in the northern hemisphere is becoming centered in much smaller communities of faith. Moreover, with the end of the baby boom, universities can expect a decrease in their populations as the demographic shifts. This will affect the Catholic population as well. We have certainly experienced this through the 50 years of our ministry, but there are also now signs of recovery.

The decline began in the 1990s with the decrease in the number of students that attended Catholic high schools. There were fewer students coming to the Newman Center who were properly catechized. Many were enthusiastic about the faith, but the catechetical structure of the Church had collapsed for their generation. Today through the influence of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who have had special regard for youth evangelization, the students who do participate in the Newman Centers are intensely involved in their faith and are fervent in the practice of it. With the influence of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and the presence of FOCUS missionaries assisting the campus ministers, revitalization is occurring. This, in my eyes, points toward a hopeful future for the Church in which the students will grow into adults who are better formed and informed, as well as, more committed to their life of faith.

ZENIT: Can a Newman Center promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, and if so, how is that done and with what success?

Father Morgan: Any ministry that is faithful to the teachings of the Gospel by its very nature will promote vocations. Newman Centers have a wonderful opportunity to foster vocations because we are ministering to young adults at an important time in their spiritual formation that often includes vocation discernment. Many students bring their questions regarding religious vocation to the Newman ministers and it is important for the minister to be prepared to journey with them in that process.

However, this is also true of the discernment of another great sacrament in our faith, holy matrimony. Many students find their spouses at Newman Centers. This is, in a sense, a special role that the Newman ministry provides. Whether it is a religious or married vocation, this discernment process done at this time in the students’ lives will change them forever. We have been fortunate over the years to have many young men and women enter the priesthood and the consecrated life, but we have also performed many weddings and baptisms!

ZENIT: How is your Newman Center preparing for Cardinal Newman’s beatification?

Father Morgan: We were privileged to host the 2010 National Newman Conference of the Newman Association of America, here in Pittsburgh. Over 25 scholars presented papers in celebration of the life and influence of the soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman. Deacon Jack Sullivan, recipient of the miracle that allowed Newman to be beatified, preached a beautiful homily with our Bishop David Zubik as celebrant of a special Mass in our St. Paul Cathedral. Similarly, we have had lectures throughout the last year in preparation for the beatification. Several of the Oratorian priests and members of our staff plan to attend the ceremony in Birmingham this September. We also are looking forward to the celebration of Newman’s first feast-day, Oct. 9, 2010, with a 40-hours devotion, Eucharistic Adoration, and Solemn Mass. We also encourage everyone to pray for yet another miracle as evidence of Newman’s holiness and power of intercession so that very soon we may move from beatification to can

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Part 1 of this interview: www.zenit.org/article-30191?l=english

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On the Net:

The National Institute for Newman Studies: www.newmanstudiesinstitute.org

Prayer for Cardinal Newman’s canonization: www.newmancause.co.uk/prayer.html

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