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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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With a building sale possible, UB Newman Center’s community waits for answers

‘It’s really difficult to keep a church community together with no church’: As diocese sells buildings to raise cash, UB center’s parishioners fear its unique community will be lost

Dozens of people come to the UB Newman Center's weekly dinners. The center's future is in limbo as the Catholic Diocese in Buffalo considers which properties it will sell to raise funds for child sex abuse settlements.
Dozens of people come to the UB Newman Center's weekly dinners. The center's future is in limbo as the Catholic Diocese in Buffalo considers which properties it will sell to raise funds for child sex abuse settlements.

Dozens of people come to the UB Newman Center’s Wednesday night dinners: students and other locals who come for the free meal every week, the volunteers who cook and serve the food, and the staff who keep the whole place running.

Now the center — located on Skinnersville Road, just off North Campus — is in limbo.

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is looking to sell numerous properties while it settles hundreds of child sex abuse claims. The diocese has already listed the Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora and its main offices in downtown Buffalo in the past few months, and it announced on March 21 that it had also listed the Newman Center at Buffalo State University, according to a statement from the diocese. More property appraisals are expected in the coming weeks.

Newman Centers were established in the U.S. in the 1880s “to help Catholics live their faith on campus amid perceived anti-Catholicism,” according to U.S. Catholic. UB’s center has grown into a community hub for its regular attendees.

Eric Szczseniak, a junior computer science major, describes it as his “third place,” somewhere to socialize with friends away from school or home. Another favorite is Newman Night each Thursday, which is a bible study session followed by entertainment, such as a movie, trivia or karaoke.

“We’re usually the last ones to leave,” Szczseniak said. “Sometimes we stay here until midnight.” 

Emily Clouden, a senior communications major, says that she has met many of her friends through the center. With their busy schedules and the challenge of preparing dinner for a whole group on a budget, Wednesday nights are often the only times during the week they can catch up with each other.

The Newman Center’s community extends beyond the student body. Bruce and Mary Lou Smith, who regularly attend mass at the Center, help serve food on Wednesday nights. Bruce Smith says that he does it since he has time and it means a lot to help out. Mary Lou Smith added that she enjoys meeting students and other parishioners, many of whom have become her friends.

They characterize the congregation as small, friendly and very involved. The line between parishioner and staff member at the Newman Center is thin, and just about anyone can get involved with anything.

Vicki Loniewski, a junior studying communications, began coming to masses and Wednesday night dinners in her first year, got involved in the women’s group, and is now the center’s social media intern.

Similarly, Francesca Harvey, a 2018 UB graduate who studied communications and theater, is now a campus and young adult minister at the Newman Center, as well as a singer in the choir.

“I’ve been at a few different churches over the years, and I’ve never felt such warmth as I do here at the Newman Center,” said Harvey. “People here are so selfless, and it’s not something that I’ve really experienced anywhere else.”

She now worries that everything the Center does — including its fall, summer and spring food drives — could be diminished in the upheaval caused by a potential sale.

While the community at UB could continue as a Newman Club without a building, it would be difficult to carry on the breadth of events and community service that the center currently facilitates, Josh Merlo, a pastoral associate and business manager at the center, said.

“On any given weekend, you’re looking at 500, 600 people attending masses. On any given Wednesday, you’re looking at 150 to 200 students attending dinners,” Merlo said. ”If you’re trying to rent space on campus, your ability to [set meeting times] is subject to availability of space.”

Before the current building was constructed in 2009, UB’s Newman Center rented chapel space on Frontier Road, between the Ellicott Complex and the South Lake Village apartments, and maintained offices in the UB Commons.

Merlo adds that selling the UB Newman Center would mean losing other assets besides the building. That includes their van, which they use to transport students to and from center events and community service projects. Their on- and off-campus projects include collaborations with Neighbors Feeding Neighbors in downtown Buffalo to provide food to those in need, as well as a monthly food drive for students.

“We wouldn’t be able to do anything that we currently do on the scale that we do,” Merlo said. “It’s really difficult to keep a church community together with no church.”

The news desk can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com

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