Newman Catholic Club balances faith and college life

by Apr 11, 2013 1:46 am

Out of the  approximate 1.2 billion Catholics living throughout the world, SJSU’s Newman Catholic Club aims to devote its faith with fellow students and faculty.

The Newman Catholic Club officers comprises SJSU students Nicole Bundy, Amy Huttlinger, Annie Bui and Paloma Mansour, with Damian Bacich, department chair of World Languages and Literatures, its adviser for the past four years.

According to Bundy, the club’s president, the Newman Catholic Club has about 150 students on its email list and 131 followers on Facebook.

The Newman Center was once fully supported and staffed by the Diocese of San Jose until 2008, said Steve Do, an associate director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in San Jose.

From 2008 to 2010, Do said the program center was closed until the Diocese of San Jose formed a partnership with SJSU students to keep the center active.

Since the Newman Center was reinstated in the Spring 2011 semester, Bundy said the club has grown exponentially.

She said she saw great potential to expand the club.

“We want to try to get college students in their faith again, and making faith a part of your life (and) you shouldn't be ashamed of it," said Bundy.

What faith brings

While some may turn to faith for varying reasons, Newman Catholic Club officers said they turned to their faith in Jesus Christ for guidance.

“My faith to me is kind of a guiding star,” Bundy said. “It gives me hope and gives me something to believe in beyond myself. I have someone to take care of me.”

Bundy, a sophomore environmental science major, said she spent her entire life as a devout Catholic and still attends Mass regularly.

Bundy’s mother associated with Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and her father runs the altar service at Christ Our Savior Parish in Santa Ana.

Similarly, club secretary Amy Huttlinger, a senior kinesiology major, said she also came from a strong Catholic upbringing.

Huttlinger said her faith has always been an important part of her life and she rarely had short stints of indifference with her religion. She said praying helps her in difficult times.

“(Catholicism) teaches me to see the good in everything and to see the positive in every situation,” Huttlinger said. “Even in a bad situation I can still get past it. I try to pray about difficult decisions and pray to God about what I should do.”

Club vice president, Annie Bui, said her faith was tested in times of peril.

From age 13 to 16, Bui said she questioned the hypocrisy of some in the Church, such as cases of priests molesting children and her aunt’s decision to divorce.

She said she also questioned the existence of God.

“There were times when I didn't agree with it and rebelled against it,” Bui said. “There were times I questioned things, but then learned to accept them. When I prayed, I started asking, ‘Why is this happening? Let me see the reason behind why this happened.’”

She said it wasn't until her grandmother and great-uncle exceeded doctors’ expectations after undergoing surgeries that restored her faith when she was 16.

“Medical (assistance) is something that can help, but I definitely believe there is a higher power working with them and helping them with their strength,” Bui said.

Similarly, department chair Bacich said his young brother's ailing health strengthened his faith.

As an infant, doctors discovered that Bacich’s younger brother had multiple tumors growing in his stomach and was expected to die shortly after, he said.

He said his mother took the baby to visit a priest in southern California who was known for having a gift of healing and the priest advised his mother to pray.

“We began to pray a lot and all of our family (prayed),” Bacich said.

“I don’t know what my mother expected.” After changing the infant’s diaper, Bacich said his mother noticed his stomach felt softer, which was a stark contrast from the firm touch from the tumors.

After a routine X-ray, doctors said the infant’s stomach was completely clear of tumors.

“At the very beginning of my life, a big event marked me and it marked the rest of our family in the way we related to the world and life,” Bacich said. “We prayed a lot growing up. To have someone in your family who’s a walking miracle, it’s always there. It’s something that always affected me even in moments where I didn't feel particularly close to the church, that fact was always there in my life.”

New Pope, old traditions

Following Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis was elected as the Catholic Church’s 266th Pope on March 13, 2013.

“I think he’s good for the Church because he’s so humble and personable, and he likes to be with people,” Huttlinger said.

Pope Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11, 2013, to much surprise, and stated that his ailing health was the main factor in his decision. Bundy said Pope Francis brings new perspective to the Church.

According to a Pew Research study, Pope Francis is the first Latin American elected pontiff and the first Jesuit.

The study also states that 76 percent of American Catholics believe the Catholic Church should permit birth control and 59 percent insist the Church open up priesthood to women.

Sixty-four percent of surveyed Catholics believed priests should be allowed to marry, although only 37 percent believe the Church will allow it.

“I think priests should stay celibate,” Bundy said. “That’s how our religion was formed. I think it’s really important to our faith and what we believe to maintain that celibacy in the priesthood.”

Huttlinger said she is on the fence with the issue.

“They have one family which is essentially the Church and they have people to take care of them,” she said. “If they have a family, I don’t know how it would affect their priest life. I don’t know if it would be a good thing or a bad thing."

According to the poll, 70 percent of surveyed American Catholics believed addressing abuse scandals should be Pope Francis’ top priority.

Bui said she thinks the cases of priests abusing children is sad but maintains that priests not immune to making mistakes.

“They are priests, they’re leaders, they’re faces of the church,” Bui said. “But at the same time, they’re still human. We cannot control our thoughts, (and) we cannot control their actions. In the end, they’re still human. There’s room for error, there’s still temptation.”

Huttlinger said the molestation scandals have slightly devalued the church.

“It kind of makes me question how priests even became priests and how the church could let that happen,” She said. “At the same time priests are still human just like to rest of us. It’s not right, but from time to time, some of them let their emotions get the best of them.”

Faith in College

“The biggest challenge is the negative connotation with being Catholic (and) idea that since we’re Catholic we’re very reserved,” Bundy said. “I want to show people that, just because you're Catholic, it doesn't mean you have to be a certain way. You can be a fun college student.”

When Bundy attended Catholic school, she said she enjoyed the festivities her school’s congregation had, which she incorporated into the Newman Catholic Club.

On April 25, the club will attend the concern by Christian artist Chris Tomlin, and they are arranging a beach day on May 22 in Santa Cruz.

“We want to help people explore their faith in a social way. I love doing social events. It’s not constantly about attending mass and praying,” Bundy said.

Joe Navaro, a senior nutrition major and club member, said one of the toughest challenges of being a Catholic in college is chastity.

“When I was 17 and 18, I really a hard time learning the value of chastity,” Navaro said. “I understand it now, being in college in meeting other people, and talking to people as they say ‘going off the dark side’ or ‘went off a cliff.’ Don’t do it, it’s just not worth it.”

Navaro also said evangelism can be difficult to incorporate into modern life. “It didn't question my faith, but it was weird having to tell people their faith is wrong,” Navaro said. “In the workplace, that’s a big no-no, you can’t do that.”

Social media can also complicate religious perspectives in a college atmosphere, according to Navaro.

“With the other Catholics, they see my Facebook picture or see me partying a lot or going out with these big party groups and they think I’m this wild party guy,” Navaro said. “You can have a fun partying social life in college and still be the good church-going person. A lot of people have a hard time finding a distinction or believing in it.”

One misconception of Catholicism is that it’s about following a set of rules, Bacich said.

“Instead, it’s about recognizing (Jesus Christ is) present,” Bacich said. “The rules and stuff, that all comes later.”

Humans are designed to connect with God and other religions can teach a person more about God, Navaro said.

“The Catholic Church is one of the biggest supporters of religious freedom,” Navaro said. “We believe that when God created man, he put in his heart a desire to know God. And there are various ways man can go about learning about God, and those way are the various religions.”


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