From Newman Club to Parish: The history of St. Thomas More University Parish
The first Newman Club was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1890s. The club was named for Cardinal John Henry Newman, a “scholar, educator, and friend of youth.” As more Catholic students attended colleges and normal schools across the country, Newman Clubs began to spring up on many campuses. Their mission was to provide Catholic students with opportunities for Christ-centered social and educational growth that might otherwise be lacking. In 1927, the number of Catholic students attending Indiana Normal School (soon to be Indiana State Teachers College) was growing. On Sunday, October 2 of that year, the Father Neil McNelis, the late Father James Brady and about 100 Catholic students and faculty from the Normal School gathered at St. Bernard of Clarivaux Church to organize a Newman Club. The purpose was “to better acquaint Catholic students with the heritage of their religion and bind them together in friendship.”
The Newman Club grew with the college, and by 1948, was one of the leading religious organizations at Indiana State Teachers College (ISTC). The club activities included regular communion breakfasts, featuring spiritual speakers and seasonal outings at the College Lodge. In the 1950’s, the enrollment at ISTC steadily grew and with it the number of Catholic students.
On March 10, 1951 the Diocese of Greensburg was established from the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Priests of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish who were serving the student population of ISTC recognized the need for the larger Catholic community to assume responsibility for religious and spiritual care of Catholic students.
The Perfetti Noodle Company, also known as the Macaroni Factory (current site of Zink Hall), was purchased and converted to a temporary center in 1958. Bishop Hugh L. Lamb, first bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, college officials, and the late Father James Brady and late Father James Miller of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish dedicated time to the effort. Its transformation from a factory to St. James Chapel was made possible by the financial support of the faithful of the community. Men and women who removed macaroni producing machinery, and scrubbed floors and walls to remove years of flour buildup, also helped make the transformation a success. The first Mass was celebrated on site November 8, 1958.
Students were delighted with the location of the first Newman Center and welcomed its proximity to campus as a relief from the former 16 block trek to St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish then located on North Fifth Street. The mission of the new facility was to instill deeper appreciation of the common faith and provide for an opportunity of fellowship among students. In addition to services and educational sessions, social activities such as dances, sometimes chaperoned by cardboard monks and nuns, were held in the new hall. The first Newman Center became an integral part of the campus.
When the college’s enrollment continued to swell in the 1960s, there was a clear need for a larger, more permanent facility. In 1965, Indiana State College was officially designated Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). In May of the following year, ground was broken for a new center, and the Vatican II style church was completed after Christmas 1967. The first Mass was celebrated on February 4, 1968 and the building was officially dedicated on October 13, 1968. In order to provide more effectively for the spiritual welfare of the students, and assist the university in the intellectual training of its students, the parish limited its membership to those with direct affiliations to IUP.
For the first three decades of its existence, the Newman Center restricted its membership to students and operated with a subsidy from the diocese. In the late 1990s, while Father Michael J. Crookston served as pastor, the Newman Center was designated as a university parish of the Diocese of Greensburg. For nearly four decades, the parish offered students and the greater community opportunities for spiritual and intellectual development through presentations, seminars, social justice activities and sponsored speakers.
St. Thomas More University Parish continues to grow and offer opportunities for worship and fellowship to the university and wider Indiana community.
Vocations Prayer Chapel
A portion of the narthex at St. Thomas More University Parish has been dedicated as a Vocations Prayer Chapel to promote prayer for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life.
The chapel was dedicated by Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, fourth bishop of Greensburg, October 17, 2008, in the fourth year of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.