This college’s Newman Institute is attracting non-Catholics with its ‘Catholicism 101’ class

Patrick Callahan Newman Institute Patrick Callahan, director of the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture, founded in 2015 by Bishop James Conley for education in the New Evangelization | Anna Youell

This fall semester, the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture launched a new series of courses aimed at first-time students. One class in particular was highly popular among non-Catholics on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus: Catholicism 101.

“There’s so much I’ve learned that I don’t know,” said Nathan Gentry, an attendee of the class. “It gives a greater appreciation for the faith.”

The Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture was founded in 2015 from the vision of Bishop James Conley for education in the new evangelization. The bishop wanted students to be exposed to great writers and thinkers. The Newman Institute serves more than hungry minds. It seeks to develop the whole person.

The Newman Institute tries to propose an “integrated life,” said Patrick Callahan, director of the Newman Institute. “In the well-ordered soul, your desires fuel you; your heart is on the accelerator, and your head points the way,” he continued.

Over the past year, the institute has continued to grow. In the spring of 2022, Father Matthew Rolling joined the Newman Institute staff to teach philosophy. And this fall, Max Chapman of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and Chance Unger of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit in the Family launched the institute’s Sunday Evening Seminars.

The first two Sunday Evening Seminars, Catholicism 101 and Theology of the Body, had more than 110 students involved in them. In Catholicism 101, almost half of these students were not Catholic.

For Nathan Gentry, this class was about “learning more about what I believe and the beliefs of the Church,” he said.

“This was definitely pretty helpful with talking about what Mass is and what the views of the Catholic Church are,” said Kenneth Reese, a non-Catholic in the class.

Anyone who attended Catholicism 101 received a free Catechism.

Callahan shared his excitement about the impact the Newman Institute has had specifically through Chapman’s class this semester. “It’s exciting,” he said, “seeing the impact of these new faculty upon students that I’ve never even met. And seeing students walking around campus with the big blue catechism that has the Newman Institute’s stamp on it.”

Father Rolling said the institute is unique because there’s a certain “immediacy to the value of the information that’s being conveyed.”

“The students who are at the Newman Center are in the middle of the culture and facing the questions that the culture throws at them,” he explained.

Next semester, the institute will continue to offer noncredit and for-credit courses. Chapman’s class continues with Sacred Liturgy and Sacraments. Nicole Tekippe, a FOCUS missionary who is completing her master’s degree in Catholic studies, will teach a seminar on St. Augustine.

In addition to classes, the Newman Institute focuses on “the Church’s intellectual, moral, liturgical, and spiritual tradition,” Callahan said. “A lot of what I’ve been doing in the year and a half I’ve been here has been reinvesting not only in our intellectual efforts but also in our moral, liturgical, and spiritual outreach. That’s seen in our various retreats and pilgrimages, as well as other cultural opportunities.”

Last year, the institute offered a fall break trip to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota for the first time. Next semester the institute will offer more opportunities, such as a pilgrimage to Rome over spring break. It will be “a nine-day pilgrimage over UNL’s spring break to Rome and various Catholic sites in Italy,” according to the institute’s website.

“By journeying into the beauty of God’s creation and on pilgrimage to the heart of our Roman Catholic faith, we invite students to experience a sense of wonder,” Callahan said.

As for the future, the institute will offer for-credit college classes for high school students next summer.

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“It’s our hope to take some of the good things that we do here and give it to students preparing for college. We want to provide them with a taste for the great tradition, which is where the Church and university meet,” Callahan explained.

“It’s awesome to come to a classroom where I know I’m being taught the truth. I’ve learned so much about the Catholic faith while I’ve been at the Newman Institute,” said Joseph Vanderbeek, a student in two Newman Institute courses.

This article was first published by the Southern Nebraska Register and is republished here with permission.

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