Expanded Newman Center, new chapel opens at ISU-Normal

NORMAL — St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Newman Center had a very special welcome for new and returning Catholic students to Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities last weekend: A new spiritual home.

The first Masses were celebrated Sunday, Aug. 22, in the new Chapel of St. Robert Bellarmine, located at 501 S. Main.

“Everyone’s very excited,” said Father Kevin Lucas, newly appointed chaplain, prior to celebrating Masses for the students at noon and 7:30 p.m. last Sunday. Because building inspections were continuing as students returned last week, their first glimpse inside the 400-seat chapel wasn’t until Mass time, which added to the excitement, said Father Lucas.

Students won’t have any trouble finding the Newman Center this year.

“It has such a presence right on Main Street,” Father Lucas said of the new chapel, which is topped by a gleaming golden cross. “People will know a Catholic Church is here on campus for any of the students to meet and encounter Christ.”

Sister Silvia Tarafa, SCTJM, Newman Center director, agreed that increased visibility will be of great benefit. Since 1967, the center’s home was a one-story, multi-functional building that served the community well, but “it was hard to tell there was a church on campus.”

“Now it’s obvious,” she added, “and so close.”

The new chapel and spacious ministry/administrative center were built on the east side of the existing building, closer to Main Street. It is located on the southwest corner of Illinois State’s campus and just a dozen blocks north of the Illinois Wesleyan campus.

“We feel very blessed by the Lord, by Bishop Jenky, and the people of the Diocese of Peoria,” said Sister Silvia. Much of the funding for the $3 million project came from the diocese-wide “Rooted in Faith” capital campaign conducted in 2004.

Fundraising is ongoing, said Father Lucas. Some of the sanctuary furnishings are temporary, and stained glass windows and other religious images will be added as monies are available.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, will dedicate the new chapel during a Mass scheduled for noon on Sunday, Nov. 7.

At groundbreaking ceremonies in 2008, the bishop told students that “worshipping in the new chapel will be a grace during your college years and every day you live.” Father Lucas shared similar sentiments on Sunday.

“My message will be ‘welcome to your new home,'” he told The Catholic Post.

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