Monday, March 31, 2014

Family faces rare disorder with faith

Aurit Update
Two weeks, Scott and Sarah Aurit of Omaha were on Spirit Mornings to share their story of faith and their family’s struggle with a rare children’s digestive disorder (see the previous blog). At the time, they were working on getting a legislative bill passed that would require insurance companies to help pay for the coverage of the specialized formula the three Aurit children and others must take for nutrition.
It’s been a couple weeks of highs and lows for the Aurits, but yesterday, Nebraska lawmakers finally advanced the bill, which also included mandating insurance coverage of intensive autism therapy and oral cancer drugs. The measure won first-round approval Wednesday after several failed attempts to attach it to other bills in the final days of this year’s session.
The proposals eventually were amended into Legislative bill 254 after its original contents were removed.
“It felt like we were witnessing a miracle yesterday to see that the bill passed with a 41-0 vote! Praise, God!” Sarah Aurit said. “It was inspiring to watch the senators come together and come up with another plan in an effort to help the sick and the young.”
The formula proposal initially was an effort to require insurance coverage of specialized formulas, but supporters compromised on legislation mandating the state to pay for the formula for children who take it orally. The cost would be about $250,000 per year.
Currently, Nebraska’s Medicaid program covers the formula for people with feeding tubes. And the Women, Infants and Children program covers it for low-­income children who take it orally. But there are few coverage options for others who take it orally.
For Scott and Sarah Aurit and their children, there’s no such thing as a “normal” meal in their Elkhorn home.  
Their children – J.P., 11, Gianna, 9, and Lizzie, 7 – have a newly discovered gastrointestinal disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis, which makes it painful and harmful to eat most foods. 
With the disorder, their white blood cells, which normally fight infection, identify food proteins as parasites and attack them and in turn damages the stomach. Symptoms can resemble food allergies or the flu, with severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and insomnia.
Each Aurit child has a number of real foods they can eat. But they receive most of their nutrients through an elemental formula that’s served powdered or premixed and artificially flavored. Gianna can drink it, but J.P. and Lizzie take the formula through feeding tubes implanted in their abdomens.
The formula is necessary, and expensive. 
For the Aurits, the cost of the formula is comparable to a mortgage payment … times three.
An insurance person once even suggested they legally divorce to qualify for government aid to pay for this formula.
The Aurits were on Spirit Mornings last week talking about their effort with other Nebraska families to pass Legislative Bill 397, which would allow coverage of the formula regardless of how it’s consumed. Currently, some insurers will only cover the formula if it’s tube fed, not orally fed.

Discovering the disease 
As a baby, J.P. had several food allergies – and that’s what doctors initially said they were … food allergies. It wasn’t until they want to a specialist at Children’s Hospital in Omaha that J.P. was diagnosed with EE.
When Gianna was born a few years later, she seemed healthy, so Scott and Sarah didn’t have her tested. Lizzie, however, had immediate food aversions – by far the worst of the children – but she couldn’t be tested until she was two-year-old. After testing positive for the disease, Gianna was tested, too. And shockingly the results were the same. 
The disease is rare to begin with so to have it with all three children is extremely rare, said Sarah, who also has a lesser-severe form of EE. 
She takes steriods to alleviate her symptoms. 
Eventually the family began receiving care from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and pulled out food from the children’s diets. But nothing helped. So the doctors recommended the children stop eating all food, which was very devastating, Sarah said. 
“I mean, how do you tell a five-year-old that they are no longer able to eat?” she said.

That’s when the kids transitioned their nutrition to this elemental formula.

That’s their baseline, Sarah said, the building block. Each child tries one food at a time after every three foods receives a scope to make sure no damage has been done internally, she said. 
Scott and Sarah said they initially hid food and not eat in front of the kids, but stopped because they didn’t want their kids to be afraid of food. Now each child can eat certain foods, and Sarah has learned to be creative when it comes to cooking, the family can enjoy dinner together.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Sarah said.
Living with the disease
In many ways, the Aurit kids are like most kids. 

They love sports, Gianna likes to write songs, and J.P loves legos.
But in many ways, their disease also sets them apart. 

Sarah said her kids sometimes feel left out because they can’t eat the birthday treats their classmates bring in at Fire Ridge Elementary in Elkhorn or the snacks served after a sporting game.
Even at Mass, it can be an issue, she said. J.P. and Gianna, who both have received first Communion, aren’t able to consume the hosts. Instead they receive the consecrated wine, which isn’t always available at every Mass.

But the Aurit kids still get to participate in fun activities. 

On Halloween, for instance, the kids went trick-or-treating. But instead of eating their candy, their parents bought it from them and took the kids toy shopping with the money they earned. Sarah gave the candy to local dentist who shipped it to soldiers overseas.

Two years ago the Aurits took their first big family vacation. They chose Disney World specifically because Disney parks accommodate people with food allergies, Sarah said. Before they left for Florida, she sent the park a list of all the foods her kids could eat.
Turning to faith
For Sarah, the hardest part of all of this is watching her children suffer physically, mentally, emotionally and sometimes even spiritually.  

“It rips my heart out to see them in pain or vomiting, or feeling left out from activities at school and the holidays,” she said. 

Dragging them to medical appointments, getting blood draws, approving painful medical procedures and not having an end point to shoot for make it all very difficult as a parent, she said.  

The Aurits, members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, said they have a strong support system of friends, family and others who live with this disease – some worse off than them. But they rely on their faith to more than anything else.

“I honestly don't know where we would be without our faith,” Sarah said. “We have hit some really dark spots … but in those moments, God is so tangible.” 

She said she sees it as an honor to be able to join her family’s sufferings with Christ's. 

“We do it imperfectly, but there is meaning attached to what we go through,” she said. 
She said she thinks perhaps her family is being called to a radical form of fasting.
“I know we can use it for good,” Sarah said. “I think it’s going to be a blessing in the long run.”

Legislative efforts
The Aurits said they are grateful to have negotiated some time-limited coverage through Medicaid for Gianna and J.P. because of their feeding tubes. They now, however, are in the middle of a “perfect storm” where they fear losing all avenues of access, Sarah said.
That’s why for the last couple of years the family has worked to have legislation passed requiring insurance companies to cover the elemental formula. 
Currently there are 16 other states that have passed similar laws to what the Aurits want to do in Nebraska. They’re working with many parents throughout the country to garner support for Legislative Bill 397 and share information. 

“This isn’t a right or left issue; this is a medical issue and it’s a response to the disease,” Scott said. “This is a formula that is prescribed by a doctor, obtained at a pharmacy through that prescription and you have to be under the care of physician throughout this process, and those items are included in the bill, too.”

The Aurits learned Wednesday that the Banking and Insurance Committee will vote on the bill April 1. 

They’re asking people to pray and to contact the committee members and ask for a vote and for the support for this to go to the full legislature, Scott said. Then they may attach the bill to a few other bills and let the full legislature vote on it, he said. 

“We’re really in the crunch zone here. We’ve got two weeks left to move this process through,” Scott said.

Even though a legislative vote looks promising right now, they understand things might not go in their favor. Sarah said if that happens, her family will be OK. She’s more worried about the other families who are “hanging on by a thread.”  
“We know families who have lost their homes, filed bankruptcy, lost everything because this formula is just so expensive,” Sarah said.
Others get their formula in unsafe ways by buying it off ebay or purchasing open containers, or have a child get a feeding tube placed just so their insurance company will cover the costs, she said. That involves surgery, it’s expensive and complications are involved.
“People are so desperate,” she said. “There’s definitely a need there.”
Want to help?
The Aurits hope people will contact members of the Nebraska Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee and encourage them to support the LB397.
Nebraska Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee
Sen. Mike Gloor, Chairperson 
Phone: (402) 471-2617
Sen. Kathy Campbell 
Phone: (402) 471-2731
Sen. Tom Carlson 
Phone: (402) 471-2732
Sen. Mark Christensen 
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Sen. Tommy Garrett 
Phone: (402) 471-2627
Sen. Sara Howard 
Phone: (402) 471-2723
Sen. Pete Pirsch 
Phone: (402) 471-2621
Sen. Paul Schumacher 
Phone: (402) 471-2715

Blogged by Lisa Maxson, senior writer/reporter.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Language of Love

Click here for Language of Love Audio

The Language of Love
A letter to the Catholic families and healthcare providers of the Diocese of Lincoln
Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Additional Resources
Click here for a PDF version of The Language of Love.
In Obedience to Christ: A Pastoral Letter To Catholic Couples and Physicians on the Issue of Contraception
Bishop Glennon P. Flavin  |  Click here.
Humanae Vitae  |  Click here.
Married Love and the Gift of Life  |  Click here.
Mother Teresa, 1994 National Prayer Breakfast  |  Click here.
To read more of Bishop Conley, check out his writings and columns.
Twenty years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood before the President of the United States, before senators and congressmen, before justices of the United States Supreme Court.  She spoke about her work among the world’s poor.  She spoke about justice and compassion.  Most importantly, she spoke about love.
“Love,” she told them, “has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them.  This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts.  Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.”[1]
Sacrifice is the language of love.  Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.
We live in a world short on love.  Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying.  Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness.  The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning. 
Love—real love—is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope.  Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life.  We are made for real love.  And all that we do—in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially—should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.
But today, in a world short on love, we’re left without peace, and without joy.
In my priesthood, I have stood in front of abortion clinics to offer help to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies; I have prayed with the neglected elderly; and I have buried young victims of violence.  I have seen the isolation, the injustice, and the sadness that comes from a world short on love.  Mother Teresa believed, as do I, that much of the world’s unhappiness and injustice begins with a disregard for the miracle of life created in the womb of mothers.  Today, our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception
Mother Teresa said that, “in destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife…destroys the gift of love.”
Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.
He created marriage to be unifying and procreative.  To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new. 
Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities.
God made us to love and to be loved.  He made us to delight in the power of sexual love to bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls.  Our Church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife: it distorts the unitive and procreative nature of marriage.  The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy, and loving meaning of marriage itself.
The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously.  God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.
In 1991, my predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, wrote that “there can be no true happiness in your lives unless God is very much a part of your marriage covenant.  To expect to find happiness in sin is to look for good in evil…. To keep God in your married life, to trust in his wisdom and love, and to obey his laws…will deepen your love for each other and will bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.”[2]
God is present in every marriage, and present during every marital embrace.  He created sexuality so that males and females could mirror the Trinity: forming, in their sexual union, the life-long bonds of family.  God chose to make spouses cooperators with him in creating new human lives, destined for eternity.  Those who use contraception diminish their power to unite and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.
As Bishop of Lincoln, I repeat the words of Bishop Flavin.  Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage.  I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life.  I invite you to share in the gift of God’s life-giving love.  I fervently believe that in God’s plan, you will rediscover real love for your spouse, your children, for God, and for the Church.  I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.
Our culture often teaches us that children are more a burden than a gift—that families impede our freedom and diminish our finances.  We live in a world where large families are the objects of spectacle and derision, instead of the ordinary consequence of a loving marriage entrusted to God’s providence.  But children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future. 
In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. ”[3]  Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antitode to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, I am grateful for the example of hundreds of families who have opened themselves freely and generously to children.  Some have been given large families, and some have not.  And of course, a few suffer the very difficult, hidden cross of infertility or low fertility.  The mystery of God’s plan for our lives is incomprehensible.  But the joy of these families, whether or not they bear many children, disproves the claims of the contraceptive mentality. 
Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that, “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.”[4]  The sexual intimacy of marriage, the most intimate kind of human friendship, is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life.  It is a pathway to the fullness of our own human life; it is a means of participating in the incredible love of God.  Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love.  And thus it impedes our joy.
The joy of families living in accord with God’s plan animates and enriches our community with a spirit of vitality and enthusiasm.  The example of your friends and neighbors demonstrates that while children require sacrifice, they are also the source of joy, meaning, and of peace.  Who does not understand the great gift of a loving family? 
Yes, being lovingly open to children requires sacrifice. But sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy.  Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to be open to joy.
Of course, there are some true and legitimate reasons why, at certain times, families may discern being called to the sacrifice of delaying children. For families with serious mental, physical, or emotional health problems, or who are experiencing dire financial troubles, bearing children might best be delayed.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that couples must have “just” reasons to delay childbearing. For couples facing difficulties of various kinds, the Church recommends Natural Family Planning: a method for making choices about engaging in fruitful sexual relations. 
Natural Family Planning does not destroy the power to give life: instead, it challenges couples to discern prayerfully when to engage in life-giving sexual acts. It is an integrated, organic and holistic approach to fertility care.
Natural Family Planning is a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility, is easy to learn, and can be a source of unity for couples.  To be sure, using NFP requires sacrifice and patience, but sacrifice and patience are not obstacles to love, they are a part of love itself.  Used correctly, NFP forms gentle, generous husbands, and selfless, patient wives.  It can become a school of virtuous and holy love.
Those who confine sexual intimacy to the infertile times of the month are not engaging in contraceptive practices.  They do not attempt to make a potentially fertile act infertile.  They sacrificially abstain during the fertile time precisely because they respect fertility; they do not want to violate it; they do not want to treat the gift of fertility as a burden.
In some relatively rare instances, Natural Family Planning is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality.  Too often couples can choose to abstain from fertility by default, or out of fear of the consequences of new life.  I encourage all couples who use Natural Family Planning to be very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?
“Perfect love,” scripture teaches, “casts out fear.”[5]
Dear friends, I exhort you to openness in married life.  I exhort you to trust in God’s abundant providence.
I would like to address in a special way Catholic physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.  The noble aim of your profession is to aid men and women as they live according to God’s perfect plan. Bishop Flavin wrote that, as professionals, “you are in a position to be God’s instruments in manifesting his truth, and his love.”[6]
No Catholic healthcare provider, in good conscience, should engage in the practice of medicine by undermining the gift of fertility.  There is no legitimate medical reason to aid in the acts of contraception or sterilization.  No Catholic physician can honestly argue otherwise. 
Healthcare is the art of healing.  Contraception and sterilization may never be considered healthcare.  Contraception and sterilization denigrate and degrade the body’s very purpose.  Fertility is an ordinary function of health and human flourishing; and an extraordinary participation in God’s creative love.  Contraception and sterilization stifle the natural and the supernatural processes of marriage, and cause grave harm.  They treat fertility as though it were a terrible inconvenience, or even a physical defect that needs to be treated. 
Contraception attempts to prevent life from the beginning, and when that fails, some contraception destroys newly created life.  Many contraceptives work by preventing the implantation of an embryonic human being in the uterus of his or her mother. 
Contraception is generally regarded by the medical community as the ordinary standard of care for women. The Church’s teachings are often regarded as being opposed to the health and well-being of women.  But apart from the moral and spiritual dangers of contraception, there are also grave physical risks to the use of most chemical contraceptives.  Current medical literature overwhelmingly confirms that contraception puts women at risk for serious health problems, which doctors should consider very carefully.
Some women have health conditions that are better endured when treated by hormonal contraceptives.  But the effects of contraception often mask the underlying conditions that endanger women’s health.  Today, there are safe, natural means of correcting hormonal imbalances, and solving the conditions that are often treated by contraception.
Contraception is an unhealthy standard of care.  All doctors can do better.
Catholic physicians are called to help their patients and their colleagues learn the truth about the dangers of contraception and sterilization.  The good example of a physician who refuses to prescribe contraceptives and perform sterilizations or a pharmacist who refuses to distribute contraceptives in spite of antagonism, financial loss, or professional pressure is an opportunity to participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ.  I am grateful for the Catholic physicians and pharmacists who evangelize their patients and colleagues through a commitment to the truth.
Tragically, a majority of people in our culture and even in our Church, have used contraception.  Much of the responsibility for that lies in the fact that too few have ever been exposed to clear and consistent teaching on the subject.  But the natural consequences of our culture’s contraceptive mentality are clear.  Mother Teresa reflected that “once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.”[7]  She was right.  Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families.  For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire. 
Dear brothers and sisters, I encourage you to read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae with your spouse, or in your parish.  Consider also Married Love and the Gift of Life, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 
Dear brother priests, I encourage you to preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue.
Dear brothers and sisters, if you have used or prescribed contraception, the merciful love of God awaits.  Healing is possible—in the sacrament of penance.  If you have used or supported contraception, I pray that you will stop, and that you will avail yourself of God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.
Today, openness to children is rarely celebrated, rarely understood, and rarely supported.  To many, the Church’s teachings on life seem oppressive or old-fashioned.  Many believe that the Church asks too great a sacrifice. 
But sacrifice is the language of love.  And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself.  I am calling you, dear brothers and sisters, to encounter Christ in your love for one another.  I am calling you to rich and abundant family life.  I am calling you to rejoice in the love, and the sacrifice, for which you were made.  I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and in the love of Jesus Christ,
+James D. Conley
Bishop of Lincoln
March 25, 2014
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

[1] Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  National Prayer Breakfast, 1994.
[2] Glennon P. Flavin, Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians.  September 26, 1991
[3] Blessed John Paul II.  Evangelium Vitae, 13.
[4] Ibid. 2.
[5] I John 4:18
[6] Bishop Flavin.
[7] Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  National Prayer Breakfast, 1994.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Praying for the Mission

There are many things that keep Spirit Catholic Radio on the air. Some are obvious, such as our radio towers, employees and funding and others are more "behind-the-scenes." 

The team at Spirit Catholic Radio feels that perhaps one of the greatest reasons the radio network has been able to broadcast the Gospel message for the past 15 years is through prayer.

Prayer is part of the Spirit Catholic Radio workday. Employees pray before meetings and meet for staff prayer in the Chapel of the Word Incarnate located in the Omaha studio, several times each week. They pray together for the mission of the organization, its listeners and many special intentions received at the radio station.

Just as important, Spirit Catholic Radio is blessed to have an incredible number of listeners that pray specifically for the mission. These listeners, known as prayer partners, are members of our Prayer Apostolate. Their prayer is essential in the keeping Catholic radio on the air in the heartland, allowing Spirit Catholic Radio to help others encounter Jesus daily.

How to become a member of the Prayer Apostolate
Spirit Catholic Radio invites you to become a prayer partner to the radio network. As a part of the Prayer Apostolate you will receive a monthly email with a prayer guide assisting you in praying for the mission of Spirit Catholic Radio. And as a member of our Prayer Apostolate, the staff at Spirit Catholic Radio comes together a number of times each week to pray for you. 

Click here to e-mail Kelly Miller, marketing and promotions manager, if you'd like to join the Apostolate or have any questions. Please note that we never share our listeners' e-mail addresses with third parties.

Blogged by Kelly Miller, marketing and promotions manager.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

UNL Newman Center

Ah, college. Can’t believe it’s been 15 years since I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with my journalism degree.

I really loved my college years, mostly because they involved the Newman Center on the campus. Also known as St. Thomas Aquinas Church - Newman Center, it’s the hub of Catholic campus ministry there.

I was extremely involved at the Newman Center throughout my five years of college. For four of those years, I was a board member and directed one of the Newman Center choirs. It certainly was a “home-away-from-home.”
A rendering of the new St. Thomas Aquinas Church – Newman Center,
which is expected to be completed next spring.
Courtesy: UNL Newman Center

To this day, I can honestly say a majority of my spirituality, knowledge of and appreciation for my faith and religious convictions come from what I learned and experienced at the Newman Center.

That’s why I’m thrilled the parish is in the middle of a five-year capital campaign to build a new, expanded church and student center as well as a Catholic fraternity and sorority.

Father Robert Matya, director of the Newman Center and vocations director for the Diocese of Lincoln, was on Spirit Mornings last Thursday talking about the campaign, “A Great Problem to Have.”

The campaign launched in July 2010 with a $25 million goal, and so far, $16.6 million have been raised from donations across Nebraska and 40 other states.

“It’s a really exciting time,” Father Matya said, referring to the construction of the new church at the same location as the old one – 16th and Q streets.

The foundation is poured and the steel structure is starting to come out of the ground, he said.

Unprecedented growth
For the last several years, the number of students involved at the Newman Center and attending Mass there has skyrocketed. The unprecedented growth of student participation in liturgies and ministries over the past 15 years is partially attributed to the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) program at the Newman Center since 1999.

About 2,500 students are involved with the Newman Center in some form each week, Father Matya said. Students at Nebraska Wesleyan University and Southeast Community College are also served by the Newman Center. More than 700 students participate in 100 weekly Bible study groups led by FOCUS missionaries, and the four Sunday Masses draw consistently overflowing crowds, he said.

“We were just out of space,” in the old church, which was built in 1960, Father Matya said.

Seating in the new church, expected to be completed next spring, will increase from 300 to more than 650, and the available meeting and ministry space in the Newman Center, which will be finished this fall, will double, he said.  

For Father Matya, one of the highlights of the new church is a 24-foot tall stained glass window of Jesus in heaven surrounded by saints.

“We really wanted to point students to see the reality of where they’re heading – to heaven,” he said.

The project architect is Kevin Clark, Clark Architectural Collaborative3, and construction is being completed by the Kiewit Building Group.

Greek system
Another aspect of the Newman Center campus renovation is the completion of a Catholic fraternity house.

The new Phi Kappa Theta Catholic fraternity house, completed
in August. Courtesy: UNL Newman Center
Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity chapter house – located immediately east of the Newman Center – was completed in August.  The fraternity house, which includes space for communal dining, recreation, a study library and a suite for parents, is designed to accommodate 68 men. Currently 53 men live there.

Pi Alpha Chi Sorority’s chapter house, which will be built about three blocks from the fraternity, will be the last piece of the construction project. It’s expected to be completed by the fall of 2016 or 2017, and hold up to 65 women.

Impact of campus ministry
Last spring, the Newman Center relocated to an old Methodist church on campus, and that’s where most weeknight Masses and ministries are held. Sunday and holy day Masses, as well as various Newman Center activities, are currently held at the UNL Student Union.

Catholic campus ministry has been a part of UNL since 1906, when a small group of students formed the first Catholic club. Its impact on the community hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Newman Center consistently fosters priestly and religious vocations and strong married couples, as well as men and women active in parishes after college.

“Campus ministry is obviously to help students not only just keep safe in the faith while they’re in college, but really to help them grow and develop their character, their person, who they are, during their years at college,” Father Matya said. “It’s so beautiful to see when that happens.”

Father Robert Matya, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and 
director of the Newman Center, greets students after Ash Wednesday Mass 
March 5 at the UNL Student Union. Courtesy: UNL Newman Center

At the Newman Center, students can attend daily Mass and confession, join a Catholic fraternity or sorority, participate in pro-life activities or other charities, attend retreats and socialize with other Catholic students at events. Students also have the opportunity to be involved in liturgy and music, evangelization and catechesis, community and fellowship, service and mission.

Maggie Skoch, a junior at UNL, said she transferred to Lincoln after her freshman year of college specifically because of the community she experienced during visits with friends to Newman Center activities.
“From Bible studies to community nights, retreats to singing in the choir, the Newman Center has all the essentials for building a strong foundation for one’s Catholic faith,” Skoch said. “Everybody here is excited about living out their faith.”
Students involved at the Newman Center not only have a deep love for Christ and his church, but also have the desire to continue to grow in their faith, she said.
Students and faculty fill the UNL Student Union during one of
four Ash Wednesday Masses March 5. Courtesy: UNL Newman Center.
Christopher German, a UNL student from Humphrey and president of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity, said it’s been a blessing to encounter the person of Jesus Christ through prayer and the sacraments made possible by the strong community at the Newman Center and Phi Kappa Theta.
“The St. Thomas Aquinas family has literally brought the light of Christ into my life,” German said. “The Newman Center is a collection of people on fire with the Holy Spirit, a multitude of candles shining brightly, inviting those in darkness to come and see the reason for our joy.”     
Come and see
If you’d like to check out the progress on the construction, the community is invited to an open house for the Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity house and Newman Center construction site April 12 from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., prior to the NU Spring football game.

For more information, visit

Blogged by Lisa Maxson, senior writer/reporter.