Lessons in Faith

After coming to Temple, some students may question their faith. Others find it near campus.

Anthony Wagner, Temple’s executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer, leads a Bible study at the Newman Center yesterday. | JOHN MORITZ / TTN
Anthony Wagner, Temple’s executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer, leads a Bible study at the Newman Center yesterday. | JOHN MORITZ / TTN

For Christian Matozzo, the decision to move into the apartments at Temple’s Newman Center was more than just the typical housing selection.

“I was being called,” Matozzo, a freshman journalism major, said.

Matozzo, who formerly commuted to Main Campus, said that moving into the Newman Center, which serves as Main Campus’ Roman Catholic Church, provided more than the relationships fostered at Temple’s residence halls, it helped him connect with his religion on a community level while living the already hectic life of a college student.

The Newman Center is one of two centers devoted to religious life on Main Campus, along with the Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center. In addition, local churches around Main Campus provide service opportunities for Temple’s worshipping population.

Nationwide, a growing number of young people identify themselves as not belonging to any organized religion. According to a 2012 survey of 192,000 incoming freshmen by the Cooperative Institution Research program at the University of California-Los Angeles, 23.8 percent of freshmen reported having no religious affiliations, up from 11.95 percent in 1990.

According to a Temple News Web poll of 80 readers, 8 percent indicated they attend religious services at centers or churches around Main Campus. Still, the predominate number of respondents, 66 percent, said  they do not attend religious worship.

“One of the changes is that students, young people of that age, are sort of uncertain of the direction that they want to head religiously,” Phil Nordlinger, director of Hillel at Temple said.

“At Temple, it’s tough to engage students in religious activities, it is tough to find an entry point,” said the Rev. Renee McKenzie-Hayward of Church of the Advocate, an Episcopal church located several blocks from Main Campus on the 1800 block of North Diamond Street.

McKenzie-Hayward said that it has been difficult to recruit students for religious activity because the university no longer shares the names of students who listed religious preference on freshman surveys to groups outside of the university. Additional competition from the numerous campus groups and activities also plays a role in students not participating in religious service, McKenzie-Hayward said.

The Church of the Advocate hosts a student worship group called Tree of Life that also connects students to service opportunities in the North Philadelphia community.

Tree of Life was formed in November 2012 when the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry moved to the Madeira Center across the street from the Church of the Advocate and took on its current namesake. The community is headed by Peer Minister Rand Williamson, a 2012 alumnus who graduated with a degree in science.

Tree of Life holds three weekly prayer meetings, as well as a monthly supper club, in which students prepare food and serve it to members of the local community.

In addition to the Tree of Life program, McKenzie-Hayward said that her weekly Sunday congregations, which gather 20 to 25 parishioners, often feature a few Temple students.

The Newman Center, which sits across from White Hall at 2129 N. Broad St., has been involved with students since 1921 when it began on campus as the Newman Club, a Catholic religious group named after the English Cardinal John Henry Newman.

In 1975, the Newman Center was opened to become Temple’s Catholic center. Formally part of the St. Malachy Parish, the Newman Center acts as a semi-autonomous church headed by Father Shaun Mahoney.

The Newman Center holds weekly mass at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, as well as a daily mass, adoration and night prayer.

In addition to the main building, which houses a meeting hall, offices and a student library, the Newman Center owns an apartment house across the street where up to 22 students can live in a Catholic community. Currently 16 students live in the building, Mahoney said.

“Knowing people are friendly and have the same values as you, that’s not what you get from dorms, it’s refreshing,” Matozzo said.

Mahoney said that while the center experienced a decline in membership a few years ago, it has risen recently. Around 180 people attend Sunday mass at the center, Mahoney said, adding that he expects close to 800 to come through for Ash Wednesday service on Feb. 13.

In order to spur involvement in the community, Mahoney said the Newman Center provides activities such as “Open Mic Night” and community service opportunities to encourage students to participate in religious service.

“We have a variety of things that are offered, people can participate at whatever level they are comfortable,” Mahoney said. “The hope is that by virtue of the service, by virtue of connecting with people who are interested in the faith, that it presents a new look at what faith is all about.”

Mahoney said religion serves an important purpose in the lives of young adults, specifically college students who often must make decisions about their spirituality. At the Newman Center, Mahoney said he and other administrators, as well as fellow student leaders at the center have to offer a place for interaction about the challenges of college life. Mahoney referenced the three tenants provided by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students: sobriety, chastity and excellence as areas of reflection when working with college students.

“I think in a university, many young people are having that type of experience, where they are forced to direct attention to the question, ‘Do I believe or don’t I believe?’” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said that in his own college years, it was an encounter with an atheist that led him to reexamine his own religious upbringing.

“A university is a place with a lot of ideas and values, and certainly Temple with its emphasis on diversity, there’s a great variety of ideas and values around, that in a way sometimes helps to just challenge people,” Mahoney said.

Another organization focused on bringing religion to campus life, Temple Hillel, provides Jewish students with a center for worship and service. Part of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, and located on the 1400 block of Norris Street, Hillel moved into its newly built location in 2009 after an 80-year history on North Broad Street.

Hillel provides weekly Friday night Sabbath services to both Conservative and Reform sects of Judaism. The center is focused on providing a “pluralistic” approach to Jewish observance, Nordlinger said. Holiday meals and services are also part of the center’s worship services.

Elana Friedman, a rabbinic intern from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa., works 15 hours a week at the center, which has a partnership with an Orthodox rabbi who holds classes at the center.

In addition to worship services, Hillel offers community service opportunities and birthright trips to Israel for students sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Nordlinger said.

“The way that Hillel works is that we are a student-driven organization, whatever our students bring to us is the way we get involved with events and activities,” Nordlinger said.

As part of its student driven program, Nordlinger said Hillel relies on its student members to encourage their peers to become active in Hillel and talk about the opportunities that the center offers.

“We are not of the persuasion that people are just going to come into our door, we recognize that we need to go out and find them on campus. Through the dialogue and through the relationship building, we attempt to connect students and inspire students to live a Jewish life,” Nordlinger said.

In the past few years, Hillel has seen a rise in student participation from 850 to 1,000 on an annual basis, up from 550 a few years ago, and out of an estimated population of 1,600 Jewish students, Nordlinger said.

Both Hillel and the Newman Center are part of the Interfaith Council, which helps bring together Temple students of varying faiths and religions. Last semester, the council ran a Thanksgiving meal open for students to sit down and share their religious beliefs.

Both Mahoney and Nordlinger said they have run programs of service and worship between the two centers and their members. On Feb. 15, Hillel has organized an interfaith Sabbath program to promote dialogue between students of different religions.

John Moritz can be reached at john.moritz@temple.edu or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.

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