Newman Center opens doors to students and community

More like home.

That’s how Jennifer Hester feels about the new St. John Paul II Newman Center near the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) campus.

Hester, a UNO sophomore, last year lived in a dormitory on the Dodge Street campus. "When I heard about this place I was excited," she said, "because I grew up in a really strong faith-filled family, so this place will feel more like home to me."

An Aug. 15 ribbon cutting and blessing marked the official opening of the Newman Center, and students began moving into their new home Aug. 16 and 17.

At 71st and Pacific streets, the Archdiocese of Omaha’s $22 million center will provide housing for up to 164 students. It includes apartments, a commons area, multi-purpose and meeting rooms, community and study lounges, indoor-outdoor fireplace, courtyard, rooftop deck, rectory and a chapel.

"I’m very proud that so many people have been able to bring their gifts and resources together to make this all possible," said Archbishop George J. Lucas before the ribbon cutting ceremony. "This will be a place where students will encounter Jesus Christ in one another, in prayer and liturgy, and be able to respond to him, and live in an environment of faith and learning."

The center is the result of a strong partnership between the archdiocese and UNO, said Chancellor John Christensen, who sees that type of collaboration continuing.

"What I think is absolutely remarkable is what this does for the students, not only today but in the future, both educationally as well as spiritually," he said.

Archbishop Lucas and Christensen helped cut the ribbon, along with Father Joseph Taphorn, center director and pastor, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Mike and Suzie Lawler of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, James Stolze, finance director for the archdiocese, and Sydney Svehla, a senior and one of several College of Saint Mary students living at the center.

After blessing the center, the archbishop joined more than 120 students, clergy, donors, neighbors, friends and officials of the Omaha archdiocese and UNO for a reception and building tours.

Student-resident and UNO senior Cole Nardini said, "I think this is a great opportunity to grow community that is centered on Christ and to have a place to call our own. Living together really allows for a new degree of community and friendship."

Several special events welcomed students, including a pancake feed Aug. 21 and a barbeque Aug. 24, where Archbishop Lucas and Curtis Martin, founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), spoke and welcomed students.

"This has been a great dream and I think something the Lord has desired for a long time," Father Taphorn said. "We’re very grateful to the many benefactors and supporters who helped make this dream possible. We know it will impact young people for generations to come."


Click here for more photos of the ribbon cutting and other JPII Newman Center events.

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