The Group at San Juan College is the first in the Diocese

When the idea came to form a Newman Club at San Juan College, Catholic students willingly took to the task and hit the ground running. Although the club is only around a semester old, its members have jumped right into activities at the college and have big plans for the future.

Junior Manuel Martinez, president of the Club, says that he first heard of the idea at a SEARCH weekend from Paul Estavillo, who was the Youth Ministry director for the Diocese at the time. Estavillo has since left to pursue a teaching job, but his idea, left in the capable hands of college students, has turned into a full-fledged reality.

“It’s a club that helps us get closer to God and closer to each other, trying to build a community not just in the college but hopefully throughout all the Diocese,” said Martinez. “We also hope to show parents that if my kid goes here, it’s not going to be all party people. They’ll still be able to keep their faith.”

Newman Clubs – also called Newman Centers – originally started in England at Oxford university and are named for Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman, who encouraged Catholic students to form communities at non-Catholic colleges. There are now Newman centers and clubs all across the world. A previous club had been formed at San Juan College, but dissolved when the leader moved away. The reemergence of the club this year has become the first such center for Catholic students in the Diocese of Gallup.

Sophomore Jessica Gomez, secretary of the Club, says that the group’s 19 current members includes a Protestant student, and that the Club is open to any other students, Catholic or otherwise, who wish to share their faith with fellow students. This tradition of welcoming other denominations also occurs at various other Newman centers.

“Now that we’ve actually started, it’s pretty open,” said Gomez. “We had an open house and got close to a hundred people that wanted to sign up to be part of the group. There’s also an LDS group on campus and they ask us quite a few questions and told us we’re always invited to help them with activities on the campus.”

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Throughout the school year, Newman Centers have a chaplain or group of chaplains to act as spiritual counselors for students. At the San Juan Newman Club, recently-ordained Deacon Matthew Lamaroux gives his time to the group.

“It helps Catholics to talk to other Catholics,” said Martinez. “We’re able to ask [Deacon Lamaroux] questions, if we have any questions about the Faith.”

The semester for students so far has been busy. Club members have so far participated in decorating the campus for fall, running a booth at the Halloween student carnival, and sponsoring a fundraiser for a local crisis pregnancy center. Gomez mentioned that the group is also hoping to start a sock drive for Farmington Catholic Charities.

Martinez notes that perhaps the most exciting event for the group will be a student Mass celebrating by Bishop Wall on Tuesday, December 9.

“We’re putting all of our focus into the Mass, so that way we can have a pretty good turnout. We’re hoping for anywhere around 100.”

Not everything the group does is religious, either. Martinez mentions that students from the group often get together simply to study in groups or for leisure activities, like an afternoon of bowling. Chavez hopes that all of these events, formal and informal, will help the club to grow over the coming semesters.

Newman Club students enjoy a day at an adventure ropes course.

Newman Club students enjoy a day at an adventure ropes course.

“We really want to make it more known to get our local priests and our local teens and young adults more involved,” she says. “Now we’re hoping to do something once a month, to have a Mass at the college, so that people can come and attend and be part of the group, regardless of whether they’re Catholic or some Protestant denomination. We’re just trying to get people more aware – our whole goal is to spread the word. You know, try to follow Christ’s teachings, be there for one another, treat people well, and bring people together, so that’s kind of what we’re aiming for so far.”

To Martinez, also, the love of Christ and the support of fellow students is of utmost importance.

“It’s a club that helps us get closer to God and closer to each other, trying to build a community not just in the college but hopefully throughout all the Diocese.”

The students of the Newman Club in San Juan express hope that other Clubs in the Diocese will eventually be formed. Chavez explains that for many of them, the Club is both a reminder and a continuation of the Faith they’ve followed throughout their lives.

“Just because you’re going to college doesn’t mean you have to quit the faith. We can still stay united, and Christ can still be in your life at college even with temptation and everything. This is a place that you can come and just be yourself.”

To find out more about the San Juan College Newman Club, visit their Facebook Page.

All photos courtesy of the San Juan College Newman Club.

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