Oshkosh Newman Center opens its doors late at night to students

By Jaye Alderson | For The Compass | December 11, 2013

During finals week, students also have opportunity to enjoy free food

OSHKOSH — It is finals week at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and students are consumed by typical anxiety, sleepless nights and marathon studying.

Mary Porter, Amy Paulick and Jacob Phillips make up a dance to a song while hanging out at the UW-Oshkosh Newman Center on Dec. 6. The Catholic campus ministry center is catering to students during finals. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)
Mary Porter, Amy Paulick and Jacob Phillips make up a dance to a song while hanging out at the UW-Oshkosh Newman Center on Dec. 6. The Catholic campus ministry center is catering to students during finals. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)

At the Newman Center, the campus Catholic ministry, Fr. Jason Blahnik, director, and Holly Rutchik, assistant campus minister, have created a nurturing, studious atmosphere. Hours were expanded through Thursday, Dec. 11. The center was open until 2 a.m. to accommodate late-night studying. In addition, a hot prepared meal was served each evening through Dec. 11.

Catholic professors from the university and parishioners from the three parishes in Oshkosh and the two parishes in Omro and Winneconne have been donating the food, as well as snacks for conscientious students.

“It is one less meal they have to prepare during a busy time,” Fr. Blahnik says. “There is a fellowship aspect to it, too. It’s nice to gather around the table and be with other people and eat. When we are stressed, we tend to withdraw into ourselves. This gives us a chance to be with each other and talk.”

Since studying at home can be difficult because of distractions, they come to the Newman Center, added Fr. Blahnik. “For me, personally, it is a ministry of presence. The students might take a break and come to me to talk. It might be about economics, but it is a chance for me to be around and offer an opportunity for potential ministry, as well.”

Jennifer Buelow is a senior from Appleton, where her home parish is Holy Spirit in Darboy. She is also president of Titan Catholics at UW-Oshkosh and a regular visitor to the Newman Center. Buelow has been receiving food donations there for the finals week meals.

“I always tell the donors thank you,” she says. “It’s such a great thing for people to bring us food so we can do our best in our studies. It shows the amount of community that we, as Catholics, have.”

She says donors also bring food at other times of the semester for the weekly “Dinner to Defend” on Wednesday nights. There, the participants discuss different aspects of the Catholic faith and how they can defend their faith to others.

“Some of the donors are professors from here on campus who share our faith,” she says. “It’s a great feeling to have, especially at a public university.”

Buelow says she enjoys the camaraderie among the volunteers who bring food to the center and the students who gather there.

UW-Oshkosh students and former students gather at the Newman Center for Friday night fellowship on Dec. 6. The group returned from a tour of the Celebration of Lights at Menominee Park to decorate the center’s Christmas tree, to enjoy snacks and to watch a movie. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)
UW-Oshkosh students and former students gather at the Newman Center for Friday night fellowship on Dec. 6. The group returned from a tour of the Celebration of Lights at Menominee Park to decorate the center’s Christmas tree, to enjoy snacks and to watch a movie. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)

“It brings people closer to Jesus,” Buelow says. “One of the most awesome things is praying in a community with a lot of people. The more people we have here to pray together, we see the faith is still alive among our age group.”

She says she enjoys the finals week offering at the Newman Center because it offers a comfortable, quiet place to study. Even though the campus library is right across the street from the center, she says she doesn’t like going to the library to study.

“There are too many people at one time,” Buelow says. “Here, I can get online and do all my homework. I’m more productive here than anywhere else.”

Jacob Phillips, a junior from Appleton, agrees. “Not having a lot of money, it’s nice to have free food,” he says. “We can be here, eat and go right back into study mode. And if you want to talk about your spiritual side, Fr. Jason is there.”

Phillips, whose home parish is St. Joseph in Appleton, visits the Newman Center nearly every day. “It’s a great way to build fellowship with kids of our age group,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s a great way to meet new people and a safe way to do so. It’s amplified my faith so much.”

Johnson Owen, a junior from Nigeria, also is grateful for the assistance he is receiving during finals week. “The food is awesome,” he says. “If you have little money, you can come here to eat and are able to study for the finals. I can’t study at the library. I have too many friends. They call, ‘Johnson, Johnson!’ But here, you also can talk to anyone; they accept everybody. And Fr. Jason is so nice.”

“We can take study breaks and go bother him,” Phillips says with a grin. “He and Holly are mom and dad.”

“Fr. Jason is awesome,” Buelow agrees. “(He and Rutchik) are making a big difference for campus ministry. They are two amazing people putting their heart and soul into something we love.”

Fr. Blahnik has provided a written prayer for students to carry with them, appealing to St. Joseph of Cupertino, the patron saint of test-takers, for help in doing their best on their tests and to remember what they need to remember. Fr. Blahnik also will pray with the students individually before a test if they request it.

“I’ll take any blessings I can get,” Phillips says. “And we appreciate that we have food on the table to eat, can interact and be ourselves.”

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