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Building a New Community of Faith

February 25, 2019

Father Hoesing and Father Taphorn stood in front of a gathered crowd in early fall of 2014 describing a man of humility, service and devotion. They proffered sentiments that many in the audience knew but never tire of hearing; Saint John Paul II’s (SJPII’s) life and his impact on others lives, specifically college students, would once again come alive.

To initiate the Newman Center project for the Archdiocese of Omaha we at BVH Architecture desired to establish a common foundation from which all stakeholders could reference. We started with a meeting with stakeholders. We felt the resonant values of SJPII’s life, teachings, and discipleship should imbue the student life center. We didn’t want to merely listen to an abridged biography so we asked stakeholders, if they desired, to share how SJPII influenced them. What was the most impactful teaching they heard him deliver? Why did they so dearly love him?

As the afternoon passed we recorded countless anecdotes of touching encounters with a man people revered. Words or emotions the crowd associated with Pope John Paul II were welcoming, approachable, universal, listener, intellectual, open, nature, unafraid, loved, humility and the list continues.

Our promise to the group that afternoon would be a building that captured these enduring qualities. What we failed to predict at that moment is how these qualities would transcend the building to directly affect each student living and worshipping year after year at the Newman Center. These attributes are not stoic, unrelatable project informants. On the contrary, they’re alive, rich with instruction and indelibly connected to the maturation of the resident. One only needs to read the blogs or watch videos to learn firsthand the impact the Newman Center is having.

Photo by Paul Crosby

The Newman Center was intentionally formed to be a community of students living life, growing in faith during an impressionable lifestage. But we would also be able to connect the Newman Center outcomes to a relevant national topic expressed by others in resident life–holistic student success. As the phrase implies a student is encouraged to learn and mature comprehensively – intellectually, humanely, socially, physically and spiritually.

Today’s student no doubt receives a first-rate education. Innately social justice and humanity are guiding compasses for the current generation. Students actively participate in recreational programs, from sports to video gaming to fitness. The missing tenet of wholistic student community living is spiritual guidance and formation. The Newman Center is uniquely qualified to instill, model, and support today’s student because they offer this critical void. Why is this important?

Photo by Paul Crosby

Residence life is increasingly responsible for developing the emotional intelligence of today’s student. Resident life staffing can be stretched or ill-equipped to handle the pressures of current complex cultural and social issues. As institutions evolve for the changing student dynamic rarely are there options under one roof that comprehensively edify the whole student. Even more rare is the mission of the resident life center purposefully focused, without reservation, on spiritual formation. Research substantiates the college years as formative in establishing a personal worldview. The Newman Center provides a communal living arrangement where students experience life together, developing a worldview reflecting a holistic approach.

Photo by Paul Crosby

The building design innately matches the attributes of SJPII with the programmed spaces with the intent to develop the whole student. Returning to the list of his attributes, an abundance of spaces are dedicated to intellectual study and debate, connected with nature, focused for listening (both in direct guidance and introspection), open and inviting for visitors where people are universally accepted. Most importantly, for the Newman Center, is the oratory where liturgy leads individuals in spiritual formation–a transcendent experience not confined by the space.

Mark Bacon, AIA | Design Director, BVH Architecture

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