It’s ‘welcome home’ as renovated St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center is blessed

Bishop Louis Tylka blesses the lounge and reception area at the newly renovated St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal during ceremonies on Oct. 29. The center serves Catholic students at Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, and Heartland Community College. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

By Tom Dermody

NORMAL — St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center, the spiritual home for thousands of Catholic college students in Bloomington-Normal, feels a lot more “homey” following a major renovation.

“It looks a little different, huh?” asked Bishop Louis Tylka as hundreds in attendance got their first glimpse of the improvements during blessing ceremonies and an open house on Sunday.

A sign outside St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal shows some of the interior renovation work that has now been completed. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The ceremonies followed a 10:30 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Tylka in the Chapel of St. Robert Bellarmine. The joy-filled day marked the completion of a $1.5 million project that redesigned and upgraded the social and office areas of the Newman Center, located at 501 S. Main St. on the southwest part of the Illinois State University campus.

The Newman Center also serves the students of nearby Illinois Wesleyan University and Heartland Community College.

Father Kyle Lucas, chaplain and director, thanked all involved in the renovation project, including the students for their patience during the six months of construction.

“As we grew and changed, your ability to adapt reflected your love of the Lord and desire for this community to thrive as a family,” he told the students in remarks at the close of Mass.

The renovation affected both the older part of the center, built in 1968, and a 2008 addition. Among its major aspects are an upgraded kitchen, a designated and soundproofed study room, conference rooms, new offices for Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionaries now on campus, a coffee bar area, remodeled bathrooms, new flooring, lighting, and fresh paint.

Other touches such as comfy furniture in group settings and a very popular new ping-pong table in the spacious recreation room add to the home-like feel.

“Home” was a word used by many during Sunday’s blessing ceremony and open house, which was also billed as the center’s “JPII Fest” honoring its patron. The blessing ceremony began with a procession from the chapel into the Newman Center following Mass.

Seated at a table in the new study room during an open house at the renovated St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal on Oct. 22 are Illinois State University students, from left, Zoey Alba, Jenna Melzacki, and Sydney Walter. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“Coming to ISU last year, I saw Newman as my home,” said senior Maeve Billing, an elementary education major and transfer student who especially appreciates the center’s “beautiful” new kitchen. “I think Catholic young adults are looking for a space to belong in the church,” she added. “So many signs here say ‘Welcome home,’ and that’s what we want it to be.”

Newly ordained Father Nathan Hopper, who concelebrated the Mass, recalled spending five or six days a week at the Newman Center when he attended Illinois State from 2012 to 2016.

While different in appearance inside, the center “still feels like home to me,” said Father Hopper. “But it’s a much more ‘put together’ place. We have an actual ceiling now,” he added with a smile.

Father Hopper called the Newman Center “a place where I really grew in my faith” and expressed gratitude to those whose investment “makes it more and more of a home for the students here.”

In remarks prior to sprinkling holy water throughout the renovated center, Bishop Tylka noted how the Newman Center was a place his sister Patty and brother-in-law had called home when they attended Illinois State decades ago.

“Their faith was nourished in this building,” said Bishop Tylka. With the improvements, St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center is an even more “fitting place where (students) can come and build community and friendships, especially community in the Lord and friendships in the Lord.”


Bishop Tylka emphasized the importance of Newman Centers “in the life of the church today as well as the church for the future.” A recent Pew Study showed that nearly 80 percent of former Catholics left the church before age 23.

Bishop Tylka said Newman Centers are places on college campuses where students can “experience meeting Jesus, learn from Jesus, accept Jesus’ love, and then live as Jesus calls us.”

Bishop Louis Tylka elevates the Blessed Sacrament during a Mass Sunday in the Chapel of St. Robert Bellarmine prior to blessing ceremonies at the newly renovated St. John Paul II Catholic Center in Normal. Concelebrants included Father Kyle Lucas, left, Newman Center director, and Father Nathan Hopper, who credits the Newman Center for helping his faith grow while a student at Illinois State University from 2012 to 2016. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“We are blessed to have some of the great universities in the state of Illinois within the Diocese of Peoria,” continued Bishop Tylka, who two weeks earlier presided at rededication ceremonies for the newly remodeled St. John’s Catholic Chapel on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. “Along with that blessing comes the responsibility to ensure that the young people that attend those universities — literally from around the world and across the country — have a place where they can encounter Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith,” he said.

In Bloomington-Normal, that includes the investment of the first full-time priest to serve the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center since 2009.

Now in his second year as director, Father Lucas explained that much of the renovation is a fulfillment of plans originally meant for the 2008 addition. Some aspects of those plans — drafted and constructed by River City Design and River City Construction, which also handled this year’s renovation — had to be put on hold then because that year’s global financial crisis affected resources. But wise investments have helped replenish the building fund, covering much of this year’s project.

The Newman Center is seeking remaining funds through what Father Lucas called a “reverse capital campaign.”

“We have a beautiful finished product,” he told The Catholic Post. “Now we can go to alumni and benefactors and say, ‘Here’s what we have, can you help us sustain and support it?”

More information on supporting the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center and its building fund can be found at or by calling the center at (309) 452-5046.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from the Mass and blessing ceremony have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook. 

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