Catholic Newman Club helps Catholic students strengthen faith and sense of belonging

BYU Catholic Newman Club members gather together for their Stations of the Cross event. BYU’s chapter of the Catholic Newman Club was started in 1997. (BYU Catholic Newman Club)

Amid BYU’s predominantly Latter-day Saint community, the BYU Catholic Newman Club offers Catholic students a place of faith and belonging.

BYU’s chapter of the Catholic Newman Club was started in 1997. The club was named in honor of St. John Henry Newman, one of the 19th-century’s most eminent English-speaking Catholic theologians and a popular priest, preacher and writer.

Since its establishment, the club has experienced periods of activity and inactivity. In 2022, current Newman Club President Fernanda Romero worked with University Chaplain James Slaughter and a few other Catholic students to bring the club back to life.

BYU Catholic Newman Club officers Gabriel Liza, Javier De Los Reyes Jr., Fernanda Romero and Ramez Gammoh. The BYU Catholic Newman Club was reactivated in 2022. (Amy Ortiz)

The Newman Club was designed “to help Catholic students at BYU live their Catholic faith and grow as disciples of Christ,” according to the Newman Club’s mission statement.

“The BYU Catholic Club has helped me find my place as a Catholic student here at BYU,” Ramez Gammoh, BYU Catholic Newman Club Marketing and Advertising Specialist, said. Gammoh also said participating in the club has helped him feel more at home and stay connected to his own faith.

For Catholic students at BYU, this sense of belonging is crucial as many of them have traveled internationally to take advantage of BYU’s low tuition and high ranking education. In addition to adapting to a new country and language, these students must also adjust to a different religious environment.

“Sometimes I feel out of place,” Javier De Los Reyes Jr., BYU Catholic Newman Club Vice President, said. “It’s hard to relate to people because the thing that unifies people the most at BYU is their religion, and I don’t have that to relate to them.”

These students have tried to ease their challenges by finding points of connection to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faiths.

 “It’s been really cool to get to know more people of different religions,” Fernanda Romero, president of the BYU Catholic Newman Club, said. “I’ve learned that we have a lot of things in common — more than we think.”

According to Gammoh and Romero, some of these commonalities include a shared commitment for moral cleanliness, spiritual growth and a strong focus on family.

BYU Catholic Newman Club officers invite students to join the club at the NSO fair. The BYU Catholic Newman Club was named after renowned Catholic theologian, St. John Henry Newman. (BYU Catholic Newman Club)

The constant exposure to diverse religious experiences and teachings at BYU has also helped Catholic students grow stronger in their faith.

“Being at BYU has forced me to do more research in my own religion, and because of that (I have) found more answers to my questions and (learned) if I really have faith in God I can know anything I want — something I never really understood until I got here,” De Los Reyes Jr. said.

One significant challenge BYU Catholic students face is the lack of public transportation on Sundays. Because many Catholic students on campus are international students without cars, they rely on public transportation to attend church services and events at the closest Catholic church to BYU, St. Francis of Assisi in Orem. When public transportation is not available on Sundays, Catholic students struggle to find other means of transportation.

“Access to Catholic churches in Utah is so hard,” De Los Reyes Jr. said. “I don’t have a car, there’s no public transportation on Sundays and the nearest Catholic church is 20 minutes away, so it’s really hard to get to church and accomplish my religious duties.”

To help counter the lack of accessibiity to religious services, the BYU Catholic Newman Club hosts events such as the Stations of the Cross, Bible studies, confessions and others to help make Catholic students feel more welcome at BYU.

BYU Catholic Newman Club members gather for the club’s kick-off event. The BYU Catholic Newman Club currently has 23 members. (BYU Catholic Newman Club)

“The club is definitely a safe place for our Catholic members at BYU,” Gabriel Liza, BYU Catholic Newman Club Treasurer, said. Liza appreciates how the Newman Club allows him and other Catholic students to share their experiences, live their religious traditions and learn how Catholic people in different countries live.

The Newman Club has also empowered Catholic students at BYU to lead, organize and give back to the BYU community.

“The LDS church has taught me so many good things, and I feel like I can teach them some good things about my religion too,” De Los Reyes Jr. said.

Considering how BYU could foster a greater sense of belonging for Catholic students and those of other faiths, club members expressed their gratitude for BYU’s existing efforts.

“BYU has gone to great lengths to ensure religious freedom on its campus and for all its students,” Gammoh said. “The idea of having a Catholic club inside of BYU … is evidence of how much BYU wants its students to feel at home, at peace and follow their own faiths.”

A Catholic priest visits BYU to lead club members in prayer and song at the club’s Vespers event. Vespers was held on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (Amy Ortiz)

However, Liza and Romero both believe more can be done to create an inclusive BYU community and suggest fellow BYU students express genuine interest in them without ulterior motives. They also believe increased visibility for students of different faiths could be helpful in creating a sense of belonging for Catholic students on BYU campus.

According to Gammoh, the BYU Catholic Newman Club is not exclusively for practicing Catholics, and all students are invited to attend their activities and connect with their culture and faith.

Students can follow the Newman Club’s Instagram page for information about upcoming events.

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