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Why are Catholic College Student Centers Called Newman Centers?

In order to understand the history of St. Paul Parish/Newman Center, it is necessary to know something about its patron’s life and spirit.  Blessed John Henry Newman was born in 1801 in London, England. He received his education from the University of Oxford, and in 1824 became a minister in the Anglican Church. Newman, along with several other colleagues at Oxford began a movement to re-discover the apostolic foundations of Anglicanism. This came to be known as the famous “Oxford Movement”. Over a period of years of prayer and study Newman became disillusioned with Anglicanism and in 1845 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Only a year later he was ordained to the priesthood. He spent his Catholic years writing, establishing a new religious order in England and founding the first Catholic University in Ireland. In 1879 he was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. Newman died in the year 1890 at the age of 89.


Cardinal Newman was driven by his desire and love for the truth. He is still considered one of the greatest prose writers of 19th century England. In one of his works, entitled The Idea of a University, he presents the idea that Catholic students attending public universities should have a place to gather where they would be able to support and encourage one another in their faith. At the time, Catholics were discouraged from and on occasion even forbidden to attend secular universities. Cardinal Newman, a former Oxford professor and fellow of Oriel College, did not want young Catholic college students to be deprived of good educational opportunities but at the same time he was concerned about their faith and spiritual well being.

This concept of a Catholic campus center spread quickly across the Atlantic. The history of Newman Centers in the United States began in Wisconsin. In order to meet their spiritual and intellectual needs, Catholic students at the University of Wisconsin in 1883 formed the Melvin Club. One of the members Timothy Harrington, formed the first Newman Club at the University of Pennsylvania in 1893. Early in the 20th century Pope Pius X stated in an encyclical letter that religious formation must be made available to students in secular institutions of higher learning.

A controversy ensued. Catholic colleges feared that they would eventually lose out entirely to the secular universities if Catholic students were allowed to attend the latter. The only way for Newman Clubs to counter such arguments was to succeed at what they set out to do, and this they did. Their influence and effectiveness in promoting Catholic faith in a secular atmosphere grew steadily, and the National Newman Apostolate was finally mandated by the United States Catholic bishops in 1962.


A little about our own development...

In 1949, a Newman Club was formed at Wichita State University with Father Ed Pfirman as its Director. The club did not have a permanent meeting place of its own and so had to hold its meetings in the Campus Activities Center. In 1961, land and a building were obtained at 17th and Roosevelt streets, then three blocks from the southeast edge of the campus. Part of the property was purchased from Mrs. Veolette Dunn, and part from Mr. S. W. Richardson. Mrs. Dunn and Mr. Richardson had a mutual desire to see their property used for the enrichment and support of the Catholic students attending W.S.U.

The Dunn home was dedicated as the Newman Center by Bishop Mark K. Carroll on January 6, 1961. The bishop was assisted by Father Augustine R. Bordenkircher, O.P., who was the Center’s new chaplain, replacing the previous chaplain, Father Laurence Walsh S. J. Fr. Bordenkircher, a Dominican, had served as chaplain at the University of Houston, and was experienced in campus ministry.

The spiritual leadership of the Newman Club continued through the sixties under the guidance of the Dominican Fathers. Father Gerard Joubert, O.P. held the position of Lecturer in Religious Education at the University. The Newman Club was also active in bringing in outside speakers to lecture on campus on a variety of interesting religious and non-religious topics. Father Joubert also worked closely with the Catholic diocese in the design and construction of the present facility.

The present brick building that houses the Newman Center was built from funds raised through the diocesan wide “New Horizons” program. The building was completed in 1966, and it was dedicated on December 4, 1966 by Bishop Leo C. Byrne. On February 10, 1970, the Newman Center was canonically established as a “personal parish” by Bishop David M. Maloney, under the title of St. Paul Parish with Father John L. Dinan as the first pastor.

Until 1978, three houses to the north of the Newman Center on Roosevelt Street were owned by the Center. These had been used to house “VISTA Volunteers” and later were used as rental homes for students and Vietnamese refugees at a reduced rent. But in 1978, these properties along with an agreed-upon sum of money were traded to the University for the property east of the rectory. The University then constructed its Health Science Building (Ahlberg Hall) and Perimeter Road near the site. The Newman Center now lies at the southeast corner of campus. It is hoped the Center will always be as much a part of the spiritual aspect of the campus as it is a part of the campus in a geographical sense.


St. Paul Newman Center continues to serve Catholics at WSU spiritually, intellectually and socially. The students of the Newman Center strive to give dynamic witness to the cause of Christ on the WSU campus. All of this is done in a spirit of friendship and charity in keeping with Cardinal Newman’s motto: Cor Ad Cor Loquitur, “Heart Speaks to Heart.”

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