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Newman Center worshippers celebrate final mass

by Alyssa Daley - Contributing Writer | Shelby Toth - News Editor
Tue, Dec 4th 2018 11:00 am

The Newman Center located at 93 Adams St., practically across the railroad tracks from the Seymour College Union, is an integral part of the Brockport Community. After serving the community for 53 years, as of this upcoming Sunday, the Newman Center is merging with Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The final mass will be on Sunday, Dec. 9 and will be one in remembrance of the center’s history, with previous clergy members returning and a small celebration afterward.

There are a few reasons fueling the decision to merge, one of which is the current pastor Margaret “Margo” VanEtten will be retiring after her 18 years of service with the center. Another reason is the size of the church. As the Newman Center is smaller in size, the groups believe merging will serve to better the opportunities and resources available to parishioners. The building of Nativity’s new community center is one of the most anticipated benefits.

“Father Joe McCaffrey came to Nativity, and he used to teach at Elmira College a number of years ago and he has all kinds of background and talent, and so it made sense to kind of merge the two places,” Pastor VanEtten said. “Nativity is building a community center which will allow it to do a lot of the things that we do here, so it made economic sense for the church and practical sense in that is either [of her fellow clergy members] retires or gets sick or something there is nobody to take their place.”

Over the years, the Newman Center has established itself as a welcoming place for people from all walks of life, both within the college or not, to come together in their religion. Worshippers can expect to be greeted by the smile of one of the six student interns who attend The College at Brockport. Before mass begins the parishioners, who are unique in that about half are Brockport residents, while the other are students at the College, all intermingle and warmly bring one another up to speed on their respective lives since they last saw one another. Pastor VanEtten is known for being able to make biblical events relatable through simple explanations and connections to current events.

The center has also forged a bond between the College community and the local Brockport community through the positions of the student interns, and involving students by including them within Sunday service and being one of the many Saturday of Service locations that freshmen volunteer at during the Saturday before the first official week of classes.

“The Newman Center has catered to the students who may feel lost or homesick, especially the incoming freshman every year,” senior at the college and four-year student intern at the Newman Center Justin Maybach said. “The center works to give them a sense that they are not alone, that there are other students who feel the need to have a quiet place to be on Sunday mornings.”

The role of student intern goes beyond helping the bond between student and Brockport residents. As Pastor VanEtten will be retiring this year, the six student interns will be the source of continuity during this transitional period that has already begun. These students have already begun to meet with Father Joe McCaffrey, who is responsible for leading the services at the Church of Nativity, to ensure the relocation does not dissolve the communal feeling the Newman Center has worked so hard to establish.

“Nativity has a tight schedule in terms of masses because it has a 4 p.m. Saturday mass, a 9 a.m. Sunday service and a 1 p.m. Sunday service delivered in Spanish,” Maybach said. “While there is not the 11:30 a.m. time that Newman has had over the past few years, we are looking into the potential of a weeknight mass and looked at SUNY Geneseo’s Newman Center because that is what they do every Thursday, followed by a soup supper or spaghetti dinner. So we are looking to potentially start something like that up at Nativity.”

The impact the Newman Center has had on the community through its many charitable events and the impact it has had on individuals through the role it plays as an inclusive space for worship and sanctuary is undeniable. For students, like junior accounting major Mackenzie Berube, who have taken on a larger role within the center, the upcoming transition brings feelings of responsibility and hopeful optimism.

“I think the connection between students and the community will be different at Nativity, but I think it will actually be better because it has more resources and can do more things, where we are very small right now and can’t do as much,” Berube said. “With more people we will have more opportunities.”

As is expected, the air surrounding the upcoming change is bittersweet. For Pastor VanEtten it also means saying goodbye to her home for the past decade or more and to her robe.

“Our intention is to keep doing the types of things we’ve been doing, but I will not be here,” Pastor VanEtten said. “This has been a fantastic community and the tradition of service to the campus and to the community will continue.”

While the last time the doors of the Newman Center will be open for mass will be Sunday, Dec. 9, its impact on both the individual and communal level will remain for years to come.