Catholic collegians crave community as they return to campus

Newman Centers respond with creativity, flexibility


Despite having the world turned upside down over the past six months due to COVID-19, there are some things that are still sacred.

Just ask Angelle Hall, director of campus ministry at the St. Thomas More Newman Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

“Our welcoming Mass on the quad will still take place,” she said with a smile. “We are excited as it is a tradition that means a lot to our students. It is a great way to start the year.”

The Mizzou Catholic population numbers around 700 active students.

Ms. Hall noted that much of the welcoming of these new and returning students will be quite different due to the coronavirus that sent students home this past spring.

For instance, the Newman Center’s open house will be limited to 15 minutes and to just 20 people inside.

“We will have no food events this year, which is a change,” explained Ms. Hall. “However, whatever the case, our students are definitely excited to make their way back to campus.”

That is a sentiment shared by Tom Kasza, director of campus ministry at the Rolla Newman Center on the campus of the Missouri University of Science & Technology.

The center ministers to more than 100 Catholic students each year.

“Last spring was tough,” said Mr. Kasza. “But I think we have a much better handle on how to proceed this fall. The campus has been very helpful in laying out guidelines that relate to clubs and groups like the Newman Center.”

He said a lot of the center’s O-Week (orientation week) events have been scaled back.

“In short, we have had to move everything outside,” he said. “This means that our game night and movie night will now be on our lawn, and no ice-cream social.

“As well,” Mr. Kasza stated, “we will have to take attendance and check temperatures at events as per campus guidelines. They want clubs and organizations to track people should an outbreak of the virus occur on campus. We are happy to do that.”

The COVID-19 restrictions will continue to change how things are done at Rolla’s Newman Center far beyond orientation week.

“A lot of our students make the Newman Center their hangout,” he explained. “They are here day in and day out studying or just enjoying time with friends. It is their home away from home. Now, however we will have to be much more vigilant in our interactions.”

Deacon Christopher Korte, director of campus Ministry at the Kirksville Newman Center on the campus of Truman State University, echoed similar concerns regarding the community of around 400 Catholic students.

But he said he’s been touched by his student leaders’ ability to adapt at the Newman Center.

“Our student leadership has been outstanding,” said Deacon Korte. “Their willingness to step up and be responsible leaders in light of all the changes has been inspiring.

“They are not throwing in the towel but rather making the best of what we can and cannot do this semester,” he said.

He noted that when students were sent home last spring, it really put a strain on them. While they prayed the Rosary and continued Bible studies via Zoom, many of the students confided to Deacon Korte that it just wasn’t the same.

“I think they quickly realized how important community is to our Catholic faith and tradition,” he said. “They realized that this virtual practice of the faith wasn’t as good as being in person.”

He added that the students are just so glad to be back on campus.

“We all want Truman to succeed this year, both as a fruitful year spiritually and academically,” he said. “But most importantly we want things to stay safe.”