JPII Newman Center yielding fruit in second year

College students growing in faith, taking leadership roles, inviting and reaching out to others.

These are some of the fruits of life at the St. John Paul II Newman Center as it begins its second year of operation, said Father Joseph Taphorn, director and pastor of the center.

The Newman Center, near the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) campus, is home to about 110 students, many from UNO and some from College of Saint Mary, Creighton University and Metropolitan Community College. Among other things, they share fellowship and faith through Bible study groups, eucharistic adoration, Masses, community nights, and just hanging out.

Reflecting on the center’s first year, Father Taphorn said, "I think it was a beautiful spirit and a great year with a lot of blessing and a lot of ‘firsts.’"

This year, students already are building on that spirit.

"The first thing I noticed, which is kind of fun to see, is last year’s students taking leadership, mentoring and taking responsibility for a lot of things," he said.

When the center opened last year, staff members were responsible for coordinating and organizing move-in and opening-week activities, Father Taphorn said. "This year we had our students helping with that, so returning students were taking charge – it was beautiful to watch.

"It will be fun to watch this year play out because, instead of people being hesitant to step into a new role, we already have that seasoned leadership that can very easily invite students into the activities and the life we have here," Father Taphorn said.

And this year, students will be able to benefit from and enjoy the entire facility.

Last year, the commons area also served as a worship space, until the opening last spring of the center’s oratory (or chapel), he said.

"To now have both spaces used as they were intended, it will be fun to see how the dynamics in the house change – having the commons back as a community space for gatherings, meals and informal times and conversation, plus having a sacred space, will draw a lot of people to our liturgies," Father Taphorn said.

New goals for this year include creating a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program for non-Catholic students considering the faith, and Newman Center residents serving as "ambassadors" to create a more intentional presence on campus and invite more students to the center, he said.

"If we’re not out evangelizing and inviting people to be part of us, we’re not growing," Father Taphorn said.