History of the Newman Center

Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center 1920-Present

Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Utah dates back to 1920 when Father Duane G. Hunt organized the original Newman Club with fifty-one charter members. The movement was named for Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century Oxford cleric. Father Robert Dwyer replaced Father Hunt and promoted the intellectual life of the club. As the club grew, it moved into the basement of Cobblecrest House on South Temple in 1933.

In 1944 Father William E. Vaughn was appointed chaplain. The club joined the National Federation of Newman Clubs in 1948 and moved from Cobblecrest to our present location which was then known as Emery House.

The University of Utah and the Newman Club experienced considerable growth during the tenure of Father Lawrence Sweeney (1957-1969). Father Sweeney raised funds and formed the Newman Forum, the predecessor of the Aquinas Lectures. The Forum sponsored nationally acclaimed speakers; including, Dorothy Day and Senator Eugene McCarthy.

The introduction of the D.D.D. by Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal in 1965 included funds for campus ministry. Bishop Federal also encouraged the Newman Club to host discussions on changes brought about as a result of the Second Vatican Council.

Father Robert Servatius appointed Sister Leonella Moe, SSC as the first full-time minister at Newman in 1975. She was joined by Margaret Luther in 1976 as the club’s first lay pastoral associate.

The Western Dominican Province was approached by Bishop Federal in 1971 and asked to accept the Newman Club under their administration. The Western Dominican Province was unable to accept Bishop Federal’s invitation at that time.

After Bishop William Weigand’s installation in 1980, discussions resumed. On August 27, 1981, Fathers Thomas More McGreevy, Francis Bede Wilks, and Ricardo Jose Garcia of the Dominican Order of Preachers arrived in Salt Lake City and steered the Newman Center on a new course.

On December 13, 1981, Bishop Weigand established the Newman Center as the 41st parish of the Diocese under the patronage of Saint Catherine of Siena. Fathers McGreevy and Wilks were appointed co-pastors while Father Garcia became the diocesan director of Hispanic ministries. Following a life-long passion for learning, Father McGreevy began building a Newman library that would eventually become the largest depository of Catholic literature in the Diocese.

In 1984, Jill Ross-Lay, a university graduate student, became the first lay campus minister at Newman. She conducted studies to determine the influence of the Center and introduced programs to enhance student involvement.

By 1985 the deteriorating condition of the building could no longer be ignored. The decision was made to completely renovate the building at a cost of $750,000. Liturgical services were held at the Holy Cross Hospital chapel and at the Moreau Medical Building. As construction began, Father McGreevy was re-assigned and on December 26, 1985 Father Donald Bramble, O.P. became the new pastor.

The first Mass in the new chapel was held at the Easter Vigil on March 29, 1986. The Dominicans returned in May, and Bishop Weigand rededicated the parish on June 1, 1986.

Father Thomas DeMan, O.P. replaced Father Bramble in October 1988. Enthusiasm for ministry grew… with students entering missionary groups including the Peace Corps and Food for Hunger, and nine men have entered religious life as Dominican, Benedictine, and Diocesan priests.

In August 1991,Father Cassian Lewinski, O.P. became Newman Center’s fourth pastor. He had extensive experience in campus ministry drawing young and old to the table of Christ and the Newman Center continued to grow.

Father Cassian was replaced by Father Denis Reilly, O.P. in the summer of 1999. Father Denis guided Newman through the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. During his term, it became very evident that the Newman Center needed to be expanded. We needed a larger chapel, more classroom and meeting space, and more parking. Father Denis led the parishioners through the process of designing and raising the money for the renovation of the Newman Center and the construction of a new chapel. A house at 169 South 1300 East which had been anonymously donated, was restored as part of this project and became the rectory. This allowed the resident students to move to the old priests’ apartment and the rooms that were previously occupied by the students became classrooms and meeting space. The project ground breaking was on Pentecost Sunday in 2003 and the dedication was on September 25, 2004.

It has been 87 years since the Newman Center opened its doors to the students of the University of Utah. During that time it has fostered spiritual renewal, intellectual discussion, and a sense of Catholic community where all are welcome. The arrival of the Dominicans in 1981 put St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center on a new course. The Center has been remarkably successful in inviting young adults into ministry.

Having looked back into our Newman Center history, we enjoy the blessings God showers down upon us in the present and look forward to a future filled with love and grace. We all, as a welcoming family of faith, will continue to strive to make the Newman Center a place where all may grow spiritually in coming closer to Christ and do so in loving fellowship with one another.


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