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Vocations to marriage begin at UNO Newman Center

Romances thrive with shared faith, priorities and values

Romance stories can get you hooked right from the beginning.

Matt and Naomi Davis’ story opens with a panicky college freshman facing her first Introduction to Neuroscience test. A chivalrous sophomore walks by and notices her distress. He promptly returns with a giant ice cream sundae smothered in melted peanut butter and other goodies, perfect for soothing even the worst test anxieties.

Sarah and Oliver Jarosik’s story begins with Oliver walking down a dorm hallway with friends, minding his own business, when a hand pops out of a room and grabs him. It belongs to Sarah, whom he’d never met before, looking for help hanging up a wall decoration in her new living quarters.

Both couples, now married, met in perhaps unusual ways. But that’s just the start of their stories.

Their romances took off when they discovered that the person who piqued their interest also shared their values, priorities and faith – and many of the same friends. They found a person who respected their boundaries, a person they could grow to love and ultimately share the rest of their lives with.

The common thread in their love stories and many others: They met at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha, a place where holy vocations seem to flourish, including those to matrimony.

Married couples often meet during college, but the odds of finding a spouse with the same values and ideals go way up in a Catholic community like the Newman Center, where college students live, worship and hang out with friends who are also prayerfully discerning their vocations, said Father Dan Andrews, pastor and director of the St. John Paul II Newman Center.

Every year new couples meet at the residence hall, and maybe two or three of those new couples will end up getting married, Matt Davis said.

Lasting relationships “just flow forth naturally when people are desiring goodness and truth and other values,” he said.

From the beginning, both the Davises and Jarosiks had to learn patience and discipline to survive separation and stay together. The foundation they built at the Newman Center helped, they said.

SARAH AND OLIVER

Sarah and Oliver, who now live in the state of Washington and were interviewed by phone, both entered the Newman Center as sophomores. They were among the first students to move in after the facility opened in 2016.

With a year of college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under his belt, Oliver said, he knew he wanted to prioritize his faith more.

“I knew the Newman Center was going to allow me to be able to live my faith life without being embarrassed … and be with people who share that love of Christ as well.”

“The good thing about the Newman Center,” he said, “is everybody who’s there made a choice to be in a community like that. So at such a transitional time of life, you’re surrounded by the best people you could ever want if you’re a young Catholic in Omaha.”

Oliver and Sarah met and began dating early in the school year. But after about two months, Oliver enlisted in the Navy. Serving in the military had been a longtime goal. He went off to boot camp the following May.

But before he left, he and Sarah had several months and some special opportunities to learn about themselves and each other, including a national FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) conference called SEEK, which was held in San Antonio in 2017 and drew about 13,000 students.

“We had a good relationship before then, but to go through that kind of experience and worship with Sarah was very confirming in my belief that we would get married at some point,” Oliver said.

Several separate men’s and women’s breakout sessions focused on relationships, dating and finding the right person as a potential spouse.

“I think for me, it really reaffirmed that our relationship was a healthy one,” Sarah said.

With Oliver soon leaving for the military, their discernment was important.

“Pretty quickly we had to decide: Is this something that we are in for the long haul? Because soon here we’re going to be doing a long distance relationship, and that’s not going to be easy,” Sarah said.

And it wasn’t easy, they said. But their love grew.

On Dec. 23, 2017, while on leave, Oliver proposed in the Newman Center oratory. They went through marriage preparation at the Newman Center and were married on Jan. 5, 2019.

Their year together at the Newman Center was crucial, they said.

“We just had so many good memories with all the people who helped us develop our relationship,” Sarah said. “It was just that one school year, but we had such a strong foundation from the talks that we were hearing and the timeliness of the Bible studies.”

That foundation “has carried us a long way,” Oliver said.

Because of their experience at the Newman Center, when the Jarosiks moved to Washington, finding a good Catholic church and community was a priority, he said.

Sarah, who graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a teaching degree in middle and high school English, will begin work at a Catholic high school next year.

In two years, the couple plan to return to the Omaha area, where Oliver can finish a degree in business and human resource management.

NAOMI AND MATT

Naomi and Matt both decided to become residence assistants for their second year at the Newman Center, but neither initially realized that commitment meant they wouldn’t be allowed to date.

They managed to still see each other and hang out, but they had to be surrounded by friends or relatives.

After about six months of being just friends, in December 2018, they were finally given permission to date. But those initial months apart were valuable, Naomi said.

“It was really a beautiful time,” she said, especially when she and two close friends would meet to talk about the graces they received each day.

“That’s how I got to know them,” Naomi said. “It had just been a really beautiful gift to me. But in those six months when I couldn’t be alone with Matt, there were many tears spent with those two.” And her desire for a deeper relationship with him grew.

Both Matt and Naomi had spiritual directors at the Newman Center. Through that guidance, Naomi said, she learned to bring her struggles to the Lord. Free from a dating relationship, she said, she could dive into areas where she most needed spiritual counseling.

Matt said he learned obedience to authority when he couldn’t date Naomi. For a while the whole no-dating idea seemed stupid, he said.

Then one day at Mass, he heard the Gospel reading about Jesus asking Simon Peter to cast a fishing net, even though the fishermen had been working all night long and caught nothing. Simon Peter obeyed nonetheless and he and his crew brought in such a haul that the net began to tear and they needed help bringing it in.

From that reading and the homily that followed, Matt said, he learned to trust “that this is where the Lord wants me to be right now.” After that, obedience seemed easier.

God seemed to be pouring out graces while they waited and became more open to his will, Naomi said. “It was a real grace throughout our entire relationship that we had this deep foundation of friendship, and also just to prayerfully discern a relationship with someone when we can’t be alone together. There’s not all the other things that might cloud your vision and discernment.”

The two were married April 17 at St. Bonaventure Church in Columbus, with a friend from the Newman Center, Father Andrew Roza, archdiocesan vocations director and associate pastor at the Newman Center, presiding.

Matt graduated in December with a double degree in accounting and management information systems. Naomi graduated earlier this month with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a minor in Spanish. The couple plan to move to Kearney, where she will continue her studies to become a physician’s assistant.

LIFE CHANGING

Both the Davises and Jarosiks said the Newman Center changed their lives.

Sarah Jarosik said her parents had encouraged her to live at the Newman Center, but she was reluctant.

“I obviously ended up there, and it changed my life for the better,” she said. “It’s just a great place to go all-in.”

As disciples, Newman Center residents know they won’t be there forever, that they will be sent out, Father Andrews said. “Christ is calling them to a concrete way for his life to be lived in them.”

Couples called to marriage know they can’t make a lifetime commitment without God’s help, he said. “Jesus extends a call to greatness. It will cost them everything, but they’ll be encouraged by the people around them.”