TEMPE — The first words Maggie Otlewski heard while unpacking her freshman year were “Catholic Mass times?” as a stranger handed her the information. Two years later, she knows so much more.
Otlewski became a founding member of a Catholic sorority and president of a pro-life club at Arizona State University. She jumped at the chance to study theology when ASU partnered with University of Mary to offer Catholic classes and a related major or minor. Otlewski counted herself among 300 students proudly engaged in a weekly Catholic Bible study last year at ASU, one of the nation’s largest public universities.
“Having that hour every week to discuss my faith was really valuable,” Otlewski said.
Others found themselves drawn to the Church too. Exactly 106 people received sacraments of initiation, 48 women joined ASU’s Catholic sorority and 17 are blazing the path for a Catholic fraternity.
That’s only a year’s worth of fruit in a vineyard where the harvest is ripe. All of the outreach calls the All Saints Catholic Newman Center home base. For students, the Newman Center — steps away from campus — is their “home away from home.”
Student leaders joined Newman Center staff, alumni, Catholic ASU parents and others in their immediate circles for a gathering that showcased the Newman Center’s good works.
“We’re here to help students and the entire ASU community discover their vocation to sanctify the world,” Fr. Rob Clements, director of the Newman Center, told the crowd.
He knows that some will discover the beauty of the Church by accident. Fr. Clements wandered into a church as a kid seeking help for a flat bicycle tire when he discovered the beauty of the Mass. Others need to be reached through one-on-one evangelization that missionaries and priests offer.
Completing the second phase of the Newman Center’s capital campaign would provide two-story space for such outreach. Plans call for campus ministry space, classrooms and administration. A priests’ residence would permanently put them on campus following a good 33-year hiatus.
James Timberlake knows firsthand the difference comprehensive campus ministry makes. That’s where he got to know Jesus and ultimately turned down medical school in favor of missionary work through the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at ASU. Timberlake is now development director at the Newman Center.
“Campus ministry is the answer to every challenge that we’ll face,” Timberlake said. He noted that students will be the future business and community leaders, spouses and parents, and it’s their formation in college that will guide them.
“We’re laying the foundation of a campus ministry to be one of the biggest exporters of leaders in the country,” Timberlake said.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted lauded the work of the Newman Center and the choices its members have made to live virtuous lives. He recognized they are often like lambs in the midst of wolves. The bishop gave a litany of reasons why Newman Centers are so important.
“Newman Centers are necessary because they help Christians to be in the world and for the world, but not of the world,” the bishop said. “That’s the wisdom of true love.”
He went on to say that Newman Centers remind Catholics that people aren’t the source of beauty and goodness but God put the desire in their hearts to discover it. The Newman Center building itself will ultimately aid that discovery process. Future improvements will add a large mural behind the altar that will contain many levels of theological meaning that all converge at the tabernacle.