Messengers in Midtown: Wayne State University’s Catholic campus ministry grows through Gospel message

A group of WSU students who became active in Newman Center activities designed a logo for the Center.

A group of WSU students who became active in Newman Center activities designed a logo for the Center.

Bill Blaul
Special to The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — It’s a challenge to help Catholic students keep their faith while enrolled at a large public university, where moral relativism often dominates. It’s an especially daunting task on an urban campus amid an enrollment of 30,000 with the added objectives of finding Catholics receptive to returning to the sacraments as well as evangelizing those outside the faith.

Fr. Lobo and Newman Center student volunteers engage in evangelization discussions, sharing the faith with others and inviting them to visit the Newman Center.

Fr. Lobo and Newman Center student volunteers engage in evangelization discussions, sharing the faith with others and inviting them to visit the Newman Center.

To Fr. Simon Lobo, CC, chaplain at Wayne State University in Detroit, it’s one big opportunity. Fr. Lobo, a member of the Ottawa-based Companions of the Cross priestly community, measures success in each meaningful discussion about Jesus and the Gospel message with a student and in witnessing their participation in the sacraments and other activities at the on-campus Newman Catholic Center.

“Our ministry at WSU is focused in three areas,” Fr. Lobo said. “Attending Mass, engaging in faith studies in small groups, and participating in Thursday night gatherings.”

Located on the top floor of the Student Center on WSU’s Midtown campus, the Newman Center has a chapel seating about 65, as well as offices, meeting rooms, a kitchen and lounge. “Once students find us, many come back because this is a comfortable and calm place. A good supply of coffee and Doritos also seems to help,” he joked.

Appealing to the Masses

Fr. Simon Lobo

Fr. Simon Lobo

Sunday Mass at the Newman Center chapel is at 5 p.m., followed by a community dinner. Additional Masses are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. “A couple of years ago, we had 15 to 20 students at Sunday Mass,” Fr. Lobo said. “We now average close to 50 attending Sunday evening Mass, which is encouraging.”

Approximately 20 small groups of four or five students each meet for six-week faith studies per semester. The groups gather weekly for one hour. “We examine a variety of topics, including understanding the basic Gospel message of who Jesus is, why He matters in everyone’s life, and how we can respond to Him,” Fr. Lobo said. “We have a group focusing on the Holy Spirit, one on basic apologetics, one tackling moral relativism, and another on medical ethics.

“The intimacy of the small group format encourages students to ask questions and critically think. It’s a good way to grow spiritually and intellectually, and gets young adults in the habit of having a consistent, intentional discussion about God.”

The Upper Room

The Newman Catholic Center is on the top floor of the Student Center at Wayne State University in Midtown Detroit.

The Newman Catholic Center is on the top floor of the Student Center at Wayne State University in Midtown Detroit.

Called “The Upper Room,” a larger weekly gathering at the WSU Newman Center is on Thursday nights from 7:30-9:30. “We named it after the upper room in Scripture, which was the place of the Last Supper, where the apostles gathered for safety following the crucifixion, where Christ appeared in their midst after the resurrection, and where the Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost,” Fr. Lobo explained. “We try to reflect those experiences, to encounter the risen Christ, and receive the Holy Spirit.

“We usually have a guest speaker followed by food and fellowship, and in the second half of the evening we move into the chapel for adoration and contemporary worship. Sometimes we pray the rosary,” he said. “Thursday nights are a pretty powerful thing for us. Many have encountered God, lives have changed, and it has become transformative for many.”

About 35 students now attend the Thursday gatherings. “The first time we did this, we had 12 attendees. The next one had six, and the one after that had five,” recalled Fr. Lobo. “We stuck with it, word spread, and I’m pleased with where we are.”

Companions of the Cross

Newman Center student volunteers follow the model of St. Paul Street Evangelization in their efforts to share the Gospel with others.

Newman Center student volunteers follow the model of St. Paul Street Evangelization in their efforts to share the Gospel with others.

Companions of the Cross priests came to Detroit in July 2011 at the invitation of Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron. Eleven Companions live in community at St. Scholastica Parish in northwest Detroit. Five, including Fr. Lobo, are priests and six are seminarians enrolled in studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, nine miles from the parish. Fr. Michael Scherrey, CC, serves as pastor at St. Scholastica, and two of the Companions priests are professors at Sacred Heart. The Companions have a similar presence in Halifax, Houston, Ottawa and Toronto. The four spiritual pillars of the Companions are the Eucharist, Mary, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit, with their primary apostolate being evangelization.

WSU’s Newman Center has also bridged into on-campus evangelization. At the start of each semester, student organizations at the university set up information tables in the student center, the Newman Center among them. “When we have someone take interest, we call them, invite them to stop by the Newman Center, and show them around,” said Fr. Lobo. “We like to get them involved in a small-group faith study because there’s a consistency to that, like attending class. We keep in contact with everyone through Facebook, a weekly email, and we put up fliers every now and again, but the personal invitation and communication is most important.”

Approximately $80,000 annually is provided through the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Catholic Services Appeal to operate WSU’s Newman Center, which Fr. Lobo administers with a part-time staff assistant and student volunteers.

‘A newfound desire to pray’

“Our objective is to make disciples,” Fr. Lobo said. “Many Catholics, including most we encounter on campus, grow up going to church, have some sense of Catholic culture, and received the sacraments to an extent, but the idea of being in a relationship with Christ, of making Him the center of our lives, is another matter.

“Our purpose is to help establish and nurture that primary relationship with Jesus. We want to invite people to a much deeper place – to consider becoming a disciple – and that’s evangelization. Once they become a disciple, everything else in life becomes easier and better,” he continued. “On most college campuses, there’s plenty of immoral and anti-Catholic stuff going on, so it can be an uphill climb. But when we are able to evangelize people, many find it easier to turn away from temptations and distractions. The stress and anxiety of being a college student become easier to deal with, there’s a newfound desire to pray, to read Scripture, get together with other Catholics, and to study the faith.”


Campus Ministries at other public universities in Metro Detroit

Oakland University campus outreach is hosted by St. John Fisher Chapel University Parish in Auburn Hills.

The Gabriel Richard Newman Center in Dearborn serves students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford Community College.

Keeping the faith across America

The National Catholic Register reports a new wave of Newman dormitories could represent a breakthrough in campus evangelization.