The past year has left many of us feeling depleted in so many ways, but one place where UMaine students can always come to get a free meal on Wednesdays and Sundays and welcome conversation all week long is the Newman Center.
“When I was looking for colleges [I was looking at] where I could go to church, because that was very important to me,” explains BBC Treasurer Kacey Roehrich. “I saw that the University of Maine had the Newman Center and they said that’s where they have free meals, and they have Mass. So I figured I’ll come down here my first weekend, and I’ve come here every weekend since.”
“A lot of my job revolves around making a really welcoming atmosphere where people can come in every Sunday night and every Wednesday night and have a supper, a free meal, for college students to sit down around a table and have a great conversation and laugh, and eat some good food,” says Audrey Alymer, Campus Minister.
But simply offering meals isn’t always enough to get students to come to the table. That’s where a personal invitation makes all the difference, and fortunately, many students and our FOCUS Missionaries offer that personal touch.
“Nina, one of the FOCUS Missionaries, one evening she invited me to come to one of the dinners after Mass. It was really nice that she extended that invitation, it made me feel more welcome to come,” notes Emily Boutin, UMaine Grad Student. “The Newman Center has that community feeling where you feel really welcomed, and especially because Nine reached out. It means even more to have the invitation.”
Breaking bread as a means of fostering meaningful friendships has a long history in our faith – Jesus himself brought people together with food. He’s the perfect role model, and the Newman Center offers the ideal place to get together in community with students who share similar values. “It’s a great opportunity to see people throughout the week who might only see each other on weekends otherwise, and it’s always a good time,” Kacey notes.
Blessedly, these events draw a large number of students, which is one of the reasons why we need to reconfigure our building. As Audrey explains, the space adjacent to the kitchen normally seats 15 on couches, but we feed around 50 students for dinners. The joyful noise spills over into our open worship area and makes it impossible to schedule concurrent events – whether that’s Mass or Bible studies.
But the fellowship – and the difference it makes in students’ lives – is well worth it.
“Before I came to college, I was really shy, kind of awkward. But I think through the Newman Center and the people I’ve met here, I’ve definitely come out of my shell and I’ve become a stronger Catholic,” Kacey says.
Want to hear about their ministry from the students who put these suppers together and those who attend? Watch this great video put together by one of our students on our Facebook page or our YouTube channel.