April 1, 2024 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

A Murray State Newman Center Mass at capacity is seen in this undated photo. COURTESY OF NEWMAN CENTER

‘All Things New’

Murray Newman Center rebuild campaign is ‘about the future of the Church’


Fr. Joshua McCarty considers the “All Things New” rebuild project for the Newman Catholic Center in Murray to be about a “mission at stake.”

“The future of the Church is something we need to be pulling toward,” he said, calling the initiative “not just a project” and instead “an invitation to spiritual maturity.”

Fr. McCarty is the pastor of St. Leo Parish, which includes on its campus the Newman Center that ministers to students at nearby Murray State University. The center is served by campus ministers Philomena Hempel and Fr. Thomas Santhosh, as well as by the Murray’s FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries.

Newman Centers, which are named for St. John Henry Newman because of his influence on the Catholic intellectual tradition, connect students with Catholic communities on secular campuses. Newman Centers are affiliated with the umbrella Newman Ministry organization.

Fr. McCarty said Murray’s current Newman Center is a 20-year-old double-wide trailer.

The trailer received an addition in 1997 to make space for a small chapel – though with the ministry’s ongoing growth, the chapel has become too small to fit all the students wanting to attend Mass. Right now, Newman Center Masses are relegated to the church at St. Leo’s.

Fr. McCarty said the challenge is that trailers are typically built for single-family residence, but at any given event, Murray’s Newman Center sees anywhere from 50-70 young people attending.

“We are really proud that our trailer has lasted this long,” he said, but explained that “the bathrooms don’t work, the windows are single pane,” and, perhaps most noteworthily, a student recently stepped through the floor – which had been weakened by water damage.

It is for these reasons that the Newman Catholic Center community wants to build a brand-new center from the ground up. In fall 2023, Bishop William F. Medley gave his official approval for the proposed building project and a capital campaign to support it.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new building for the Newman Center at Murray State University. COURTESY OF URBAN FABRIC

The proposed new center will feature a gathering space for 100 students, a chapel to comfortably seat 70 people (currently, the chapel can only fit about 25), a library/reading room for bible studies, and a modern kitchen for community meals.

Another reason for a new building is to offer improved safety during bad weather, which Fr. McCarty said was made abundantly clear during the devastating tornadoes in December 2021.

That night of Dec. 10, a few students were gathered at the Newman Center trailer, unbeknownst to the parish staff. The record-breaking storms ravaged western Kentucky, and a tornado came as close as 20 miles away.

Thankfully, the students, the Newman Center and the parish were unscathed, but the experience troubled Fr. McCarty when he learned that when the weather crisis happened, “we did not have a safe place to offer our students.”

With their new building, “we intend to have a space that is reasonably safe for our people,” he said, which includes extra reinforcement in the bathrooms “to have an area that is doubly safe.”

The estimated cost of building a new Newman Center is $1.75 million; a cost which Fr. McCarty emphasized is well worth it.

From a numbers perspective, he said there are currently three men in seminary formation around the U.S., five women religious, and 13 (“and counting”) FOCUS missionaries – all of whom who were formed at Murray’s Newman Center.

That’s in reference to Murray State graduates, but Fr. McCarty said he is impressed with the faith of the students still in school, too.

Last year, he decided to “challenge the students a little” and announced that he would start getting up at 5 a.m. to do his morning prayer in the Newman chapel – and open it to the students. He wasn’t there to chat or hang out, and planned to do his morning prayer quietly on his own.

The purpose was just to provide another prayer opportunity, albeit at an unusual time for the average college student.

That first morning, there were 20 students in the chapel by 5:07 a.m. By the end of Fr. McCarty’s morning prayer time, “there were people gathered outside the chapel because there were people who wouldn’t fit,” he said.

He kept up this practice, and continued seeing students quietly appear in the chapel on those early mornings.

Fr. McCarty said it is true that the Newman Center needs a new building, “but it’s not about the building.”

“It’s about the future of the Church; it’s about the generation leaving the Church en masse,” he said. “It’s about the future of vocations and leadership in the Church. The college-aged student is the age that is leaving the Church – or committing to a life of service. It’s the fork in the road.”

Those interested in supporting the All Things New campaign can visit the official webpage at www.catholicracers.org/all-things-new

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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