February 19, 2014

Like any other campus organization’s Facebook page, The Newman Club of WPI is full of fun events, giving details of activities such as pasta dinners, fall pumpkin carvings, and an end-of-term party.

But this group of students, led by Colombia native Fr. Juan Echavarria, also schedules prayer vigils for Syria and prayer gatherings for a teacher in Danvers who was killed by a student.

The Newman Club is the campus ministry at WPI. It’s open to anyone, Catholic, non-Catholic, or at any stage in between, and its goal is to promote fellowship and serve as a spiritual outlet for students. Its activities range from the social to the liturgical—at any given mass, upwards of 120 students, parents, and members of the public gather to attend.

The name of The Newman Club, says Fr. Juan, comes from Blessed Cardinal John Newman. “He believed in the importance of spreading the Gospel in places like universities; and the cooperation between faith and knowledge,” Fr. Juan says.

Junior biomedical engineering student Aimee C. St. Germain, who has been a member of the club since her freshman year, is club president. A resident of Manchester, N.H., she feels the Newman Club offers a sense of community like she had in her parish back home. And that brings her a sense of comfort and hope.

“There is such joy and beauty in it, even in such difficult times,” she says of her religion, “as it offers a filter with which to see the world.”

Father Juan

Fr. Juan took the reins as WPI’s priest from Fr. Tomasz Borkowski last summer. He came here from Colombia in 2008 to finish his theological studies, earning a master’s degree. He was ordained in 2011 and served at St. Patrick’s in Whitinsville before arriving on campus.

At 29 years old, Fr. Juan says, he didn’t feel too far from their age and was close to many of the high school and college students in the Whitinsville parish, even taking a group of young people on a mission trip to a friend’s parish in his native Colombia. So the transition to a college campus was one he was excited about.

“Our mission is to walk with the students … and provide for their spiritual needs. We do believe that our faith is a journey. We cannot walk all by ourselves.”

The idea of faith—the belief in something we can’t quantify—isn’t necessarily at odds in the academic culture of WPI, say Fr. Juan and St. Germain. Somehow, both aspects mesh well. And the fellowship the Newman Club offers helps students see that.

“We are a very logical school,” says St. Germain, “and there may seem to be a conflict with faith and reason, I have a belief they complement each other and come together.”

“The students in our club are very passionate about their faith, very committed. At the same time, they are very intelligent,” in this scientific environment, Fr. Juan says. He says club members tend to ask more about theology in an academic sense.

“Students have that intellectual touch and are very interested in knowing and learning,” he says. “They ask and explore and dig a little bit.”

Broadening offerings

Mass is held every Sunday at 11:30 am; with a Eucharistic Adoration on Mondays at 9 pm in the Mid-Century Room of the Rubin Campus Center; Bible study is Wednesday at 7:30 pm at the Collegiate Religious Center (CRC), at 19 Schussler Road, and a Rosary session is held each Thursday at 2 pm at the CRC.

Saturday, or “So, Saturday …” as Fr. Juan calls it, as it’s often the lead-in to what social event is on the docket (“So, Saturday, what are we planning …?), is for movies or ice skating or hiking, he says.

“We also like to eat,” Fr. Juan says with a laugh, so sometimes the “So, Saturday” event is a dinner.

The Newman Club’s latest calendar add is a 12:10 pm Wednesday mass at the CRC, which lasts 20 minutes. Fr. Juan calls it “a little bit of spirituality in the middle of the week.”

As an upcoming special event, at mass on March 2, student Emily Cambrola will be baptized, receive First Communion, and be confirmed.

Questions on the Newman Club?  newmanclub@wpi.edu.