Dan Blank, director of Administrative Services of the Diocese of Superior, looks over the recently sold Newman Student Center at UW-Superior while standing in the room of the YellowJacket Union where the Newman ministry continues to hold its gatherings. The Cathedral of Christ the King can be seen in the distance. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

With the start of UW-Superior’s 2017-18 academic year, a 55-year history was coming to an end. On-campus Catholic ministry was changing.

The UW-Superior Newman Student Center building, dedicated in 1962, had long been a topic of discussion in the Diocesan Finance Council. From an administrative standpoint, the building was underutilized. From a ministry standpoint, a permanent location was not essential to its mission.

Dan Blank was hired in earlier this year as the director of Administrative Services for the Diocese of Superior. “With groundwork laid previously by others, I was charged with helping facilitate some discussion with the university to find out if they were seriously interested in purchasing the building or not,” Blank said. In fact, the university was interested and made the diocese a reasonable offer. With a sense of fulfilling the diocese’s goal of being good stewards of its resources and assets, the offer was accepted and the sale finalized in mid-September.

The Newman Catholic Campus Ministry has continued its Thursday evening gatherings in the YellowJacket Union, in a room that overlooks the former center. Dr. Brett Jones, associate professor of percussion and associate chair of the music department, is also the UWS faculty liaison for the ministry. He told the Catholic Herald there were some logistical challenges with the move, given the loss of a permanent location, storage space and square footage.

However, the YellowJacket Union is still new and has plenty of meeting space available for student groups at no cost.

“We could carry on the Newman’s mission and activities just as well, and may be even more accessible to students. We are in a visible building at the center of campus, where students are already meeting and gathering,” Jones said.

Serving students of both UW-Superior and WITC, the Newman Ministry gathers weekly to celebrate Mass, both for intentional community and to offer deeper growth in faith. Fr. Adam Laski celebrates Mass Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. while classes are in session. After Mass, there is faith formation and fellowship.

Students also meet weekly for Mass at the Cathedral, have monthly Eucharistic adoration and are invited to other club-sponsored events throughout the academic year. The club president is UWS student Zack Mazurek. Jones and his wife, Meghan, have been involved for nine years and serve as the club coordinators.

No matter where campus ministry takes place, both Blank and Jones iterated its necessity. Blank, himself a catechist for Confirmation-age students, said, “The real hope and goal is that we can fight against this idea that Confirmation is graduation from religious education and that there is something to offer beyond high school.”
Among the challenges on campus, Blank said, “The pool of Catholics that are potentially looking for something is smaller than it might be on other campuses.” He referred to the student body comprised of resident and commuter students.

Jones knows there are many other Catholic students on campus who might be involved in their local parishes, but he added, “The Newman club still has something to offer them” as a Catholic community.

Proof that young adults are interested in that community is the active and energized Newman club at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Under the direction of the dynamic Fr. Mike Schmitz, nationally renowned speaker and director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, their Newman Center is also served by FOCUS missionaries.

While many Superior residents attend college in Duluth, the southern Twin Ports campus wants to maintain their club’s identity. Blank sees the UWS Newman club “in a rebuilding stage.” With “young and enthusiastic Fr. Laski, who has a great way of building rapport with the youth,” and the other leadership, Blank believes the club has what they need to serve the needs on campus.

Blank and Jones have meet repeatedly to share ideas for Newman at UW-Superior, in light of a bigger picture of reaching out to youth and young adults maturing in their faith. Blank said, “We don’t have anything formal for our 12th graders in Superior after their 11th grade Confirmation. We are concerned that we start to lose them even before they go to college. It is possible that we will be discussing a 12th grade program at Newman to bridge the gap.”

Initiatives are in the works for how to keep these high school seniors involved in faith formation, so they have reason to seek a Newman club in college. At the same, giving college students a leadership role with high schoolers might engage and motivate them.
“If Newman can offer students a chance to foster some Catholic camaraderie, to keep the faith, they’ll stay connected in college. And once they have their degree, they’ll be more inclined to join a parish and be active in whatever community they find themselves in,” Blank said.

There is one other Newman Center in the Diocese of Superior, at UW-River Falls. That center was established in 1948.

In the words of UWS alumnus and former Newman Center director Paul Birch, now director of the diocese’s Office of Worship, “Through opportunities for participation in the liturgy of the Church, devotional prayer, catechesis, forming friendships and reaching-out in service to others, a vibrant Newman ministry helps young adults to be better Catholics, optimistic evangelizers and a true leaven for the wider community. This process has manifested itself differently over the years at the Superior Newman Center and will continue to evolve in new ways. The constant that remains is Christ.”

The group meets Thursday evenings in Room 204 of the YellowJacket Union for Mass at 5:30 p.m. For more information, connect with the UWS Catholic Campus Ministry Facebook page, or contact club president Zach Mazurek at .