As I’ve talked about before, my youth group in high school is where I really found myself. It’s where I first began to come out of my shell and discover my faith. It was where I first truly felt what it was like to be part of a community. A community where I was loved for who I was. I loved this group of people with my whole heart.
So when college (yay Truman!) started inching closer and closer I started to freak out a little. How would I ever replace this incredible faith community that I had building for four years? What if I’m not accepted the same way I was in youth group? What if I go right back into my shell? I was excited about college, definitely, but I also had my fair share of anxiety and doubts about moving on from the closest friends I had ever made.
I had a handful of friends that were at Truman before me and they all kept telling me the same thing: you have to check out the Newman Center! I actually had a chance to see the Newman Center my senior year when I went to visit my best friend Matt. Basically, the Newman Center was this building where Catholic students could go and hang out. There were lounges, couches, and a kitchen. There was also a chapel and it’s also where mass was held. Better yet, the people there when I visited that were super nice!
This place seemed awesome. But yet I still had concerns about leaving my high school faith community behind. Sure, there might be people at Truman that help my faith but nothing could ever compare, right? Nonetheless, I was set on trying out the Newman Center. I had friends that were already involved there and I got a really good first impression from my visit. Little did I know the profound impact it would have on my life.
Fast forward to my first week at Truman. This college thing was pretty cool! I was meeting tons of new people everyday and everything was new and exciting. And the Newman Center also happened to have dinner and activities every night of freshman week. I made an effort to go every night and I was meeting a lot of other Catholic freshmen. Okay, maybe this place will be pretty cool. It definitely helped to have some fellow freshman friends from high school there with me. You would think I would have dived right in. But that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Freshman week was easy to feel welcomed because that was the whole purpose. I was also there with a ton of other freshmen just like me. The attention was all on us. However, it just felt a little different when I went back. To be perfectly honest I was incredibly intimidated. When I got there everyone knew each other. They were all already friends. It was scary for me, a tiny little freshman, to go and insert myself into a conversation. Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of upperclassmen that welcomed me and did their best to include me. I had my friends that had already been there to show me around. I still felt a little weird.
I think a huge part of that was I was really missing my friends back home. I just didn’t think Newman could ever top St. Cletus. That really affected how I approached Newman. Instead of diving right in I was hesitant and reserved. I still went up to Newman for various things, like fellowship groups, mass, and bigger events. But I always had to go for a reason. I didn’t just go up there with no intention like seemingly every upperclassmen did. Seriously, they would just be up there hanging out in the kitchen, watching TV, or doing homework. There was also this thing called council. Basically, there were all these different committees that were run completely by students. These committees included social, fellowship, intramurals, interfaith, service, publicity, facilities, and spiritual. There was also exec, which included the president. I distinctly remember thinking one day my freshman year: I’m never going to be on council. I just didn’t see myself growing into any sort leadership position there, which is crazy considering how much I had grown in youth group. I was letting intimidation and fear dictate everything. Instead of embracing this community I was closed off. I was letting the past hold me back.
That all changed with this retreat called Awakenings. I went on it with a lot of the other freshman friends I had made. It’s a pretty secretive retreat, so I’m not going to give away any details. Let’s just say, I had never felt so much love in my entire life. And everything just clicked. It’s not that I was replacing St. Cletus or moving on from St. Cletus. I was just expanding my faith community. I started to recognize all of the amazing people that were surrounding me. I felt kind of stupid, really. What had I been missing out on? Thankfully I was only a little over a semester in. That fire I had discovered in youth group was now fully burning. And I did everything I could to keep it that way.
Remember earlier when I said I didn’t think I’d ever be on council? Well, that thought didn’t last long. My sophomore year I was on the service committee. I didn’t really do a whole lot with it but it was such a big stepping stone for me. I was the first time I really started to feel ownership with Newman. And I was now trying to involve myself in everything Newman. I was going to fellowship groups, I played on as many intramural teams as possible, retreats, literally everything.
I was starting to develop some absolutely amazing friendships. I again felt like I was in a place where I could be myself. But this was different. These friends were pushing me in ways I had never been pushed before. They were challenging me to strengthen my faith, to expand my comfort zone, and to embrace joy. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t see these friends. Our time together was spent in laughter, happiness, and most importantly, prayer. Through these friends I started to see my potential.
Junior year I took another step up the ladder – I was the intramurals chair! Basically I was in charge of recruiting people to play intramurals, creating teams, and more generally organizing pick up games. I was in heaven. Junior year is when I hit my stride. I had a position that I absolutely loved and my faith had never been stronger. I was now one of those upperclassmen that was at Newman for no particular reason. There were so many days I would have time in between class and would just go up to Newman to hang out. I don’t think I can count how many naps I took in that lounge. I know it’s a cliche, but Newman truly became my home away from home. I loved this place and the people in it. It became one of my biggest passions. I was ready to take on some more responsibility.
Before I go on, I again want to go back to that moment where I didn’t think I’d grow into a leadership position at Newman. It’s crazy to think that I almost let that intimidation and doubt keep me from pushing myself to be more. That’s why when I was named council president I was shocked. I didn’t picture myself in that type of position just a few years earlier, but it’s exactly where God planned for me to be. I learned so much in that role and I took so much pride in it. But there’s one thing that made that position so unbelievably rewarding: the people. I wouldn’t have grown into that role without the people I had met through Newman. I owe so much to the friends I made. I want to specifically give shout outs to Joe, Kelci, Danny, Michelle, Emma, Colleen, Katie, Lizbeth, and Ellen. Obviously there were countless people that influenced and impacted my time at Newman. But those are the people who I shared so many incredible memories with. I have no idea how many nights we spent up there: having movie nights, cooking dinners together, creating counterball together, having spontaneous dance parties. I owe everything to them.
Most of my best memories of Truman came within the walls of the Newman Center or with the people I met within them. Table soccer, parties, ultimate spoons, game and movie nights, film festivals, fellowship groups and so much more. So many joyful moments took place in that building. But I experienced so much more there. Newman is where I was when I found out my grandma had passed. It’s where I was when I decided I wanted to give a talk on Awakenings. It’s where I discovered myself and my faith through adorations, masses, and retreats. It’s where I went to spend time in the chapel to get away from all of the stresses of college. Newman was my sanctuary. It was my home and the people were my family.
Saying goodbye to Newman and the people was so hard. I grew accustomed to seeing these people every single day, knowing they’d be there to lift me up and support me. I felt like I was back to square one with youth group: I didn’t think I’d ever be able to replace those people. Almost three years removed I can affirmatively say I haven’t replaced those people. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. Sure, I don’t see these people as often as I used to. But they still remain a huge part of my faith family. I know that if I ever need anything I can still reach out and know that they will be there for me.
The Newman community will always have a place in my heart. The friendships I made there will last me a lifetime. I’m amazed when I think about what could have been if I had given up going. I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I’d probably still be the shy, timid freshman I was. I have grown so much since I left the Newman Center but so much of that growth has roots in the community I became a part there. I could honestly go on for days. But I will leave with this…
“May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.” – Blessed Cardinal Newman