Teens talk faith at Newman Club - Catholic Courier
Twelfth-graders Emily Parisi (left) and Heather Crouse pray during a meeting of the Newman Club at Auburn High School March 26. Twelfth-graders Emily Parisi (left) and Heather Crouse pray during a meeting of the Newman Club at Auburn High School March 26.

Teens talk faith at Newman Club

AUBURN — "Atonement is basically reconciling and kind of getting right with God."

That’s not exactly the kind of sentence you’d expect to overhear while walking through the halls of a public school. Yet that’s exactly what Dominic Marini explained to a group of seven students who’d gathered after school March 26 in English teacher Keith Lavey’s room at Auburn High School. Those seven students are part of the Newman Club, which Marini and Lavey founded at the school in the fall of 2013. Marini is a seminarian for the Diocese of Rochester who currently is serving his pastoral year at St. Mary Parish in Auburn, where Lavey is a parishioner.

"It certainly is a new idea, a Catholic club in a public school," said Marini, noting that he and Lavey had to ask permission from the district’s school board before they could begin holding club meetings.

This permission was granted, probably because the Newman Club is an optional afterschool activity, rather than a class, Marini said. He said he and Lavey are not trying to convert anyone to Catholicism, but just want to provide a place where Catholic and non-Catholic students alike can learn more about the church and its teachings.

"It’s an afterschool club that tries to look at daily life through the Catholic lens. We’re not trying to push our ideals on anyone. We’re just trying to provide an accessible place to learn anything you might not know about the faith," Marini said.

The Newman Club is sort of like a youth group, but holding meetings at school rather than at a church makes the group accessible to a wider range of students, Marini said. Club members don’t have to worry about finding rides to and from meetings, which always end by 3 p.m. so students can take the late bus home. And a familiar classroom is a much less intimidating setting than a church, especially for non-Catholic students who may be curious about the club or about the Catholic Church in general, Marini said.

Seminarian Dominic Marini leads a meeting of the Newman Club at Auburn High School March 26.

A few non-Catholic students have been drawn to Newman Club meetings because they’ve been hearing so much about Pope Francis in the news lately and want to know more about his church, Marini said, and others have come because they have questions about specific Catholic beliefs.

"As much as this does kind of look at things through the Catholic lens, we wanted it more just as someplace where people could kind of get information about the faith and what it means to live it, whether you’re a Catholic or not," he said.

Discussions that take place during the meetings are driven in part by the questions and interests of the students at each meeting, Marini said. He and Lavey usually begin each club meeting by talking about a specific topic or teaching, often referencing the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and Screwtape Teaches the Faith: A Guide for Catechists. So far Newman Club members have discussed such topics as faith, prayer and relationships within the family. The discussions on March 26 centered around the topics of conscience formation, atonement and the sacrament of reconciliation.

"Who here can kind of describe what it feels like before confession and after confession?" Marini asked the seven students in the room that day.

Charlie Elser, 17, said he usually feels very nervous before going to confession. That’s probably because people tend to see confession as "this big looming thing" and are afraid of being shamed or scolded by priests, but that’s not what the sacrament of reconciliation is about, Marini said.

"It’s about freeing us so we don’t have to hold on to these sins. We don’t want to have our consciences eating away at us. We also have confession in the Catholic Church to help us reconcile within the community," Marini said, noting that interacting with others can be a struggle for someone who’s carrying the weight of sin.

"I feel very relieved after going to confession," added Charlie, who belongs to Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn.

A senior at Auburn High, Charlie said he joined the Newman Club because he likes learning about his faith and hearing all the interesting questions other people raise.

"We talk about almost everything. I just like to widen my knowledge of faith and good morals and things," Charlie said.

Junior Maggie Flurschutz, 16, said she’s in a Bible study group as well, but appreciates the opportunity to talk about other things besides Scripture at Newman Club meetings.

"I enjoy hearing everyone’s opinions. It’s a fun way to get to know other people," said Maggie, who belongs to St. Mary Parish.

Tags: Newman Community
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