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There was homemade macaroni and cheese, tossed salad with all the fixings, fresh apple-crisp straight from the oven and Castleton State College students gathered around the table enjoying conversation with Father Henry Furman and other members of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church. The group at Castleton’s Newman center has been formed because of the reality that more than two-thirds of college-aged students cease to attend religious services during their college years. Newman Societies, or “Centers” as they are known in the United States, were formed in honor of John Henry Newman, an influential religious figure in England during the 19th century.

These Centers aim to provide pastoral services and ministries to Catholic students attending non-Catholic institutions. But few here at Castleton State College have any knowledge of the local Newman Center.

“The meetings take place on Saturdays after mass and vespers,” Castleton State College student Julie Asta-Ferrero said. “There are the students, Father Henry Furman, Nancy Luzer from the college, and then some ladies from the parish named Kathy, Jane and Ginny. They are the ones who make dinner, set up the table, and do most of the cleaning afterwards.”

The group is very close-knit, small in size but big in heart. Members enjoy a magnificent home-cooked meal while conversing about various topics within the church and within the world.

“We eat and talk about things. It could be anything! Things going on in our lives, things we heard on the news, anything,” Asta-Ferrero said.

After dinner, Father Furman offers students Catechesis-a short lesson about the Catholic faith. On this specific meeting he gave a dynamic talk on John Henry Newman and his efforts to stand up for Catholicism during the reign of the Anglican Church in England.

“After we’ve eaten our fill and talked ourselves out, we help each other clean up. Then we say goodnight and go back to campus,” Asta-Ferrero said.

Furman after the meeting said he’s hopeful more students will start coming to the meetings.

“My hope is that college students will stay close to the faith, or discover it, to help them make sense of the world-to see the big picture,” he said.

He said he realizes that many college-aged students venture away from the church and his hope is that The Newman Center will help.

“I hope the Church will be a spiritual home away from home for students,” he said. “The Catholic Church truly provides a richer picture and deeper understanding of the mystery and wonder of our life on earth.”

Student members of the group also are hoping others will join.

“It’s really fun and nice to have dinner with your family away from home,” Julie told me. “And I really think a lot of students would like that after a long week of homework and tests.”

Mass at St. John’s (which is a short, one minute walk from campus) is at 4 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. The next meeting is going to be held on Saturday, Oct. 30 after the 4 p.m. mass.

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