Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

St. Thomas More Newman Center, Pullman: a place where students grow in their faith

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 13, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Thomas More Newman Center, Pullman, Wash.St. Thomas More Newman Center, Pullman, boasts 500 WSU students as registered members, but many more unregistered, active participants. (IR photo)

From the outside, St. Thomas More Newman Center at 820 N.E. B Street in Pullman gives no indication of its large size. The two-story structure, built in 1978-79 and dedicated in 1980, is sandwiched between two fraternity houses on College Hill and in that location, appears to be on the small side.

To enter it, however, is to be surprised. The center is anything but small. It contains a large worship space, a Blessed Sacrament chapel, and a gathering hall, complete with kitchen, on the main floor. Go up the stairs and find several offices, an apartment, the choir loft, a large room with TV and VCR used for study, prayer and other activities, and a conference room.

The conference room was recently named for Father Edward Caffrey, a former pastor, now retired and living in Pullman. He was pastor at St. Thomas More when the new Center was built. He celebrated the first Mass in the new Center on Dec. 8, 1979. The late Bishop Lawrence Welsh dedicated the facility Oct. 26, 1980.

The chapel’s interior, which has auditorium seating, rises two stories from floor to ceiling. The second floor choir loft is along the back wall. When Mass at the center is packed with people (which often happens), the loft holds the overflow.

A brick panel on the back wall of the sanctuary also touches the ceiling. A crucifix hangs in the center of the panel, which is angled inward along each side. Plants and banners decorate both sides of the sanctuary’s back wall. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is located at the right hand side; space for the music group is at the left. Tall windows on either side of the nave let in light which makes the room seem even bigger than it is.

The community life of a university church differs from that of most customary parishes. For one thing, the flow of the church year is different. During the months the students are at school in Pullman, all kinds of activities take place. There are retreats, prayer services, workshops, parties, Masses, and people just hanging out. But at Christmas, during spring break, and in the summer, the church is quiet with barely a ripple of action.

Important feasts such as Christmas are celebrated early to accommodate the students’ school schedule. Midnight Mass for Christmas this year will be celebrated Saturday, Dec. 13. After that date, most students will be gone until the new year.

Another notable difference is that the church’s congregation changes as new students arrive and old ones depart.

Keeping the transition smooth is the St. Thomas More staff. Father Steve Werner is the center’s chaplain. He was assigned to St. Tommy’s, as it is affectionately called, just a little more than a year ago. He has settled into a routine – an extremely busy routine during the school year. He recently held a workshop on different kinds of prayer and a SEARCH retreat.

Also ministering with Father Werner is his golden labrador dog, named Sam. Father Werner is a WSU graduate. He lived in Pullman from 1986-1992 and earned a master’s degree from WSU in food science.

Kathy O’Connell is the center’s secretary. She started at St. Tommy’s the same time as Father Werner. Mark and Holly Duvall recently took on the center’s maintenance work and live in the apartment on the second floor. Father Werner said this was “a great blessing” since it freed him for his other work.

The Newman Apostolate nationwide is 110 years old. It was started in Pennsylvania in 1893 as a support system for college students. The apostolate is named for the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of Catholicism’s more noted converts in England. The cardinal died in 1890.

The Newman ministry at Washington State University was held as part of Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman for a number of years. Among the activities were Communion breakfasts and a bulletin for students. In 1962, the diocese purchased the former Greystone Presbyterian Church on Maple Street on the south side of College Hill. Mass in that facility was often standing- room only, necessitating the need for a larger building. The Greystone building was used until the new chapel opened in 1979.

The Newman Center has 500 students registered, but many more attend the Center’s Masses and other activities. WSU’s student body numbers about 18,000.

Newman Center hours are 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Masses are scheduled at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays; 12:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. The rosary prayer group meets at 8:15 p.m. on Wednesdays prior to Mass. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also held on Wednesday evenings, from 6-9:30. “Tuesday at St. Tommy’s” features dinner for whoever shows up, followed by a Current Issues group which discusses important issues such as abortion. Another active program is RCIA.

Some other student activities include the social justice committee’s “Rake and Run,” when students go out and try to anonymously rake leaves for people; a Christmas toy drive and an AIDS benefit dinner in the spring. This committee also put together a “Respect Life” table with displays and brochures for the month of October. Father Werner stressed that the students are the ones who do the ministries at the Center, and he encourages their participation. “There’s a lot of talent in the student community,” he said.

One place where that talent shows is in music. In the university church, music majors and faculty from the university often play the music for the Center’s Masses. Currently there is a variety of musicians and instruments.

Brian Presto of Bothell is co-chairperson of the Center’s social activities committee. He is in his second year at WSU, majoring in Management Information Systems. The most recent social activity was a Halloween party; the next one will be refreshments after the Midnight Christmas Mass. Presto’s committee is also planning a ski trip in the second semester.

What Presto likes about St. Tommy’s is that it’s “open to anybody. The lounge is open and it’s always welcoming,” he said. “It’s easy to make friends there.” Presto said his faith is “very important” and confessed to being “charged up” by the recent SEARCH retreat. “It was really fun; we were dancing and everyone was happy,” he said.

Katie Burgard of Spokane Valley, who is on the spiritual life committee, has a special connection to St. Thomas More: She was baptized there. Her parents were both students at WSU and she is carrying out a family tradition by attending the school. She is in her second year and is doing a double major in French and German.

“St. Tommy’s is the place where I strengthen my faith,” Burgard said. “I’ve done a lot of growing here; it’s a special place to me.”

She took part in the SEARCH retreat – “it was great” – and also helped with Father Werner’s day-long workshop on prayer. “We led the rosary and the stations of the cross,” she said. Her committee organized a rosary prayer group and once a month, they put out a saints calendar with information about the saints for each day.

“I really like the community we have,” Burgard said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends here.” What she really likes, though, is to be able to share her faith “with people who are also growing as I am.”

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