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Catholic fraternity offers alternative at UNL

The Catholic Voice

When Andy McNaughton came to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last year, he had no intention of pledging to a fraternity. The 19-year-old from Omaha said he was more focused on getting good grades and finding friends who shared his beliefs than being a part of the Greek system.

However, a year later, McNaughton is one of 23 members of Phi Kappa Theta, a national Catholic fraternity that promotes academic success and living Catholic values in everyday life. The fraternity was a chapter at UNL in the 1920s, but closed during the Depression. It was reactivated at UNL in the fall of 2005.

McNaughton, a graduate of V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, said he became interested in joining the fraternity after meeting the other pledges, many of whom lived on his dorm floor and were in his weekly Bible study.  He said he felt connected to them and the way they wanted to live their lives.

'They were leading the lifestyle that I wanted to partake in, being the best that you could be in everything you are doing," the sophomore said.

A mechanical engineering major, McNaughton said he also liked how fraternity life was structured "“ with weekly meetings, academic assistance, social activities and spiritual discipline.

'I kind of knew from the get-go that if I were to say yes (to joining the fraternity), that I'd be saying yes to more than just a fraternity. I would be saying yes to living my lifestyle as a Catholic at this university," he said.

Forming leaders

The goal of Phi Kappa Theta is to form young Catholic men and help them become leaders in their communities and in their parishes once they leave the university, said Father Robert Matya, chaplain and advisor to the fraternity. He said the fraternity gives members a structured approach to integrating their faith into their lives through programming that highlights virtues, chastity, leadership skills and apologetics.

'I hope that they will not only play an active part in the Greek system at the university, but that they'll be leaders within the Greek system and campus as a whole by their example and involvement in campus life," said Father Matya, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish (Newman Center), the Catholic parish on the UNL campus. 'I hope they will be able to give good witness and be able to live their faith lives doing well in school and giving back to the community."

Kevin Sueper, a sophomore from Bellevue, said Phi Kappa Theta is different from other fraternities because it stresses moral integrity and does not involve hazing.

'We're living closer to the ideal brotherhood," Sueper said. 'We're not pressuring each other to drink or party or any of that stuff. We're the guys who like to have good clean fun."

The pledge class goes through an eight-week orientation program that highlights values, the UNL Greek system, the national history of Phi Kappa Theta and the fraternity's four pillars "“ intellectual, social, fraternal and spiritual.

'We like to say we're a beacon, not a bunker," added Sueper, who graduated from Bellevue East High School and attended St. Mary Parish in Bellevue. 'We kind of have said that one of our goals is that we want to help improve the entire Greek system through setting a good example of living our faith."

Spiritual and academic opportunities

Although one doesn't have to be Catholic to join the fraternity, fraternity members are expected to be active in the campus parish, attend Sunday Mass and participate in a Bible study. They also are encouraged to attend Thursday night Mass at the Newman Center as a group. Members also have the opportunity to meet monthly with a priest for spiritual direction.

In addition to activities that enhance spiritual growth, the members play intramural sports, attend Husker football games and go swing dancing on Sunday nights. Last year they even participated in the annual pro-life walk in Lincoln.

Academic success is stressed at Phi Kappa Theta, as well, and members are taught memory development, learning techniques and successful note-taking and test-taking skills.

Student cost for the fraternity for the first year is $400 per semester ($800 per academic year).

Within the next five years, Phi Kappa Theta will work to move into a permanent Greek house on the UNL campus. In the meantime, students live in the UNL Residence Halls and correspond through phone and e-mail. Weekly meetings are held at the Student Union on campus and activities are held at the Newman Center or at other locations throughout the city.

Father Matya said he hopes the fraternity numbers will grow within the next couple of years and they will have four full classes with about 100 members.

'It's been a lot of fun helping these guys get started with it and to see how they have bonded and formed such great friendships and how excited they are now to bring another class of guys in," he said. 'They really want to do a good job forming it well in terms of the vision that it initially started with."

The Catholic Voice

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