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This year marks a hallmark for the Newman Center not only because it is the 40th anniversary of its institutionalization but also because the center is recognizing the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th century Catholic priest after whom the institution is named. But as it celebrates the past, Penn’s Newman Center continues to work to spur more growth in the future.

To celebrate the beatification, 15 Penn students attended a celebration on Oct. 23 at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, according to Administrative Assistant Mary Mahon, emphasizing the significance of the event to the Penn Newman Center community.

According to Assistant Director Jeff Klein, Penn’s Newman Center was the first such institution in the world. The center was started in 1893 by a medical student who sought to create a forum for students to discuss their Catholic faith. The student group named itself after Cardinal Newman in honor of his philosophy. “Newman had written a lot about the importance of the church in higher education,” Klein said. “Who better to name it after?”

Today, Newman Centers serve as Catholic student centers at secular universities worldwide, Klein said. Penn’s Newman Center provides extensive student programming, including social, spiritual, community service and opportunities for intellectual discussion, he said.

A group of approximately 45 students make up the Newman Council, which helps plan the services provided by the center, Klein explained. “They’re the core of our leadership, the core of our community,” he said.

According to College senior Michael Gallagher, a council member, students involved with the center are vigorous volunteers. He listed opportunities such as mentoring mentally challenged children, soliciting donations for Locks of Love and collecting presents for children during Christmas as some of the students’ key service projects.

Gallagher first got involved with the Newman Center when he attended a pre-orientation freshman retreat. “It’s an excellent opportunity to meet others of the same religion,” he said. Now, he comes to the center approximately three times a week, attending services, group discussions and council meetings.

According to Klein, the center has seen considerable growth in its student participation over the past five years. The number of students attending the center’s Dollar Dinners — weekly all-you-can-eat $1 meals — has jumped up from about 25 to as many as 80. Similarly, the number of students on the Newman Council has grown from 10 to 45.

Mahon has noted an increase in the diversity of students involved with the Newman Center. Today “we get a good cross-the-board ethnic group coming in,” she said, citing rising numbers of Spanish-speaking and Asian students who are involved.

Nevertheless, the Newman Center is looking to increase its student outreach in the future. “The most difficult part is getting the word out that there’s a Catholic center,” Klein said.

According to Klein, between 800 and 900 students regularly attend one or more of the five weekend services held at the neighboring St. Agatha-St. James Church. Now, the center is looking to involve more of these mass attendees at the Newman Center. According to Klein, approximately 150 to 200 students are involved with the center on at least a monthly basis and about 60 to 80 on a weekly basis. He sees this number as a sign of the potential for growth, pointing to data recently provided by the Office of the Chaplain, which indicates that Penn has approximately 3,000 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate students who self-identify as Catholic. “We don’t want to become complacent about inviting them. We hope that of all of the things we offer, we have something that will appeal to them,” he said.

Mahon stated that educational programs, college house outreach and expansion to include The Restaurant School and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in the center’s services may also be on the agenda.

Indeed, Gallagher finds the Newman Center an integral place to bring forth his religious identity. “It’s nice to have this center that’s always there for you, always an open door to your faith,” he said.

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