Dear friends of Newman Catholic:
God is good. As we come to the end of Academic Year 2020-2021, which is probably the most unique in my time here at Montclair State University, those three words kept coming to mind: God is good. Truth be told, I don’t know if I would’ve said that in March 2020. That semester had kicked off to be one of our best in recent years. It was so full of successes that I was excited at the potential before us. We enjoyed our highest numbers of students attending literally everything: Sunday and Daily Mass; Bible Studies; we sold out our winter retreat – (which hadn’t happened in years); our Spring Break mission trips had completely filled up as well. As we concluded Ash Wednesday at the end of February 2020, with record attendance at our 4 Masses and confessions all day long, I was happily exhausted saying “God is good.”
A week or two later with the viral pandemic literally freezing people in place… with our students on their mission trip to Albania when a ban on flights from Europe to the United States being announced and the panic and fear that accompanied getting them home quickly and safely… with the eerie silence on campus with students told to pack their things and return home for the remainder of the semester… I must confess among many emotions that were pretty universal the dominant one was being frustrated.
Very quickly our FOCUS missionaries, who were forced into quarantine here at the Newman Center, met with me to discuss what we could do with all these abrupt changes that seemed to hamstring our efforts. We’ve been blessed having missionaries as part of our ministry for about 10 years now, and I can’t imagine how I could have navigated this bizarre time without them. They suggested “Let’s just continue our regular schedule – we’ll just do everything online.” It was humbling to realize that at some point I crossed the line into not knowing how to do something on the computer and how I needed a younger person to explain and show me as they helpfully said, “It’s easy…” (Never thought those words could sound so cutting)
Within a day of being “shut down” we were completely online, being one of the first to offer Daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration via live-stream. Amazingly, the livestream drew literally thousands of viewers from around not just the country, but the world. Students were emailing to tell us how they were watching with their families at home, and for many it was a comfort as it provided a sense of “normalcy.” Our Bible studies not only continued virtually, but we reached out to students who had previously expressed interest but never attended an “in person” study and drew an entire new group of students to participate. Our weekly “Newman Nights” which was usually a dinner, a discussion, and fellowship became our own weekly online talk show called “Quarantine Catholic” – which also received national attention and commendation for the speed in which it was put together and ingenuity in providing outreach and connection for our community and beyond. God is good.
As shut-downs/lock-downs continued through last summer, our missionaries were unable to attend their Annual National Staff Training together. We were asked if we could let them stay here as well as include other local missionaries from other campuses who, because of different schools’ restrictions at the time, had nowhere else to live and gather for training. This was another unprecedented and unexpected development that initially had me frustrated. But at a time when so many were experiencing isolation, the presence and energy of these missionaries preparing themselves to serve their peers, the opportunity to pray with people in person was an incredible gift that poured out numerous blessings not just on our campus but for me personally. God is good.
That primed us for this past Academic Year. Montclair State University was the most “open” of all campuses in the state of NJ, with residence halls opening in August 2020 to any student wanting to be on campus, with about half of that population choosing to return. That meant everything needed to be done in a hybrid format – both in person and online. Again, I was feeling frustrated. It seemed like we were all doing five times the work we had done previously without even being able to calculate the effect of those efforts. But when new students were getting plugged into our community and bringing friends to things in person and online; when people coming to Mass in person day after day, week after week; when people were looking for a place to go to find prayer, comfort and support and they found a home here – it all reiterated, again and again – God is good.
A year ago at this time, I made the decision not to suspend our two annual appeals. We normally reach out to families of students, alumni and friends of the Newman Center at the end of the Academic Year and at Christmas. Yet, knowing how unprecedented and difficult a time this was for everyone, I didn’t want something coming from a Catholic entity to be asking for anything. I simply wanted people to know we were here to help in any way we could. Miraculously, some very generous people stepped forward on their own initiative and by years end we had actually surpassed our previous fund-raising records from the year before.
Hopefully you see the pattern: God is good.
That’s not to be pollyannaish or insensitive to the many challenges, setbacks and losses that so many we know have suffered. Our prayer lists for those who were sick, those who died was longer than it ever was. The difficulties students experienced on a mental and spiritual level was unlike any time previous. The temporal realities of budgets that had been healthy and stable for over a decade, like so many others experienced, we were forced to make some substantial cuts this past year. Yet our experience, our story attests to the God who becomes one of us and one with us. In Jesus Christ, we have come to know the fully divine, fully human, Son of God who promises to be with us always, even to the end of time. Jesus who brings healing, brings release, works miracles, provides comfort, brings the dead to life, makes all things new – all so that we will know and testify: God is good.
We’re grateful for any support you are willing to offer us as we prepare for what we anticipate is a “full in-person re-opening” this Fall. Be assured of all of our continued prayers that you and your loved ones may be blessed with good health and the awareness of the goodness of God.
Sincerely in Christ:
Father Jim Chern
Chaplain & Director
checks please make out to: Newman Catholic Center – to donate via credit card, please go to REDHAWKCATHOLIC.com