University of Rochester student finds faith, strength in Christ - Catholic Courier
A young man stands in front of a college building.

University of Rochester student Matthew Niemczura completed the Catholic Church’s adult initiation program in 2023. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

University of Rochester student finds faith, strength in Christ

As he was preparing to begin his senior year at the University of Rochester, Matthew Niemczura had no idea he would soon meet God in the woods around Naples, Ontario County.

In the summer of 2022, Niemczura was hiking at the south end of Canandaigua Lake at Conklins Gulley. He recalled that it was a tough trail, and he had gone two or three miles into the woods before deciding to turn back.

“As I was scrambling down the rocks on the side of a waterfall, I managed to slip and hit my head, and slide halfway down the waterfall. I don’t know how I didn’t end up just face down in a puddle at the bottom,” he said. “Somehow, I managed to walk out of the woods on my own two feet that day, and I just had no idea how I made it out.”

Search for God leads student athlete to Catholic faith

Niemczura, a native of Palmer, Mass., who plays on the UR basketball team, described it as a “stark coming to God moment” that set into motion a serious search for who it was that had preserved him in the woods that day.

He began looking for a church. He had been baptized as a baby, but his immediate family was not religious and he hadn’t been raised in the Catholic faith of his extended family. Still, he said Catholicism was the only answer in his mind.

“It felt right, more comfortable, because that’s where my family goes, aunts, uncles, grandparents,” Niemczura said.

He initially started going to Mass in Fairport, but eventually realized there was a Newman Catholic Community right on campus at the UR Interfaith Chapel. He started attending Masses there and said he felt drawn to learning more about the Catholic faith.

“The more I went to church and thought about it, I decided that that’s what I wanted; that’s the man that I wanted to be. I decided to start the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program through UR Newman,” he said.

Niemczura was confirmed at the Newman Center during the Easter Vigil in 2023, taking St. Raphael as his patron. Since then, he said, he has embraced his faith in a very public way.

Confirmation “felt like a start to a new journey in my life. The whole process leading up to it felt like the end of one journey and start of a new one, lifelong,” he recalled.

Catholic faith and leadership go hand in hand

Recruited to play basketball at UR out of high school five years ago, Niemczura is now earning his master’s degree in science of business analytics from the Simon Business School. As the captain of UR’s basketball team, he said he is very aware that his leadership role is an important way to model Catholicism in behavior and attitude.

“Leading by example is what I’ve always tried to do. I’ve had teammates that aren’t even Christian say, ‘Matt I really admire your lifestyle, your conviction and the things that you do,’” he said.

Niemczura said he strives to be “someone who my parents can be proud of — someone that my younger sister can look up to — being a role model in life, in faith.”

He said his parents and sister, who attends Nazareth University, are very encouraging of his Catholic faith and have begun going to Mass themselves.

Niemczura also is active in supporting the seven UR catechumens who currently are in the adult-initiation program. He said he speaks to them during their instruction sessions and also informally when he meets them on campus, encouraging them to accept the mysteries of the faith, which he acknowledged can be a struggle at first.

“To anyone thinking of becoming Catholic, if you’re thinking about it, just do it. Take that leap of faith. Don’t be the guy who buried his talent and said, ‘I was too scared to do it,’” he remarked, referencing Jesus’ parable of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew.

Finding joy in trials with the strength of Christ

Niemczura said the St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer has been extremely helpful in his prayer life and in living out his faith. He said living as a Catholic is about remembering that no matter what one does or where one is, “Christ is with us all the time.”

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he added that “The time is always right to do what is right.”

In February, with just a few weeks left in the basketball season, Niemczura suffered a torn ACL during a game, putting an early end to his UR basketball career. In an email, he said that after learning his season was over, he was struck by the daily Mass reading for Feb. 12 from the letter of James, which talks about joy amid trials.

Although bearing with this injury has been incredibly difficult, “being able to find joy in trials gives me hope, and just knowing that even if the road to recovery is long and arduous, Christ will give me the strength to persevere,” Niemczura said.


EDITOR’S NOTE: “Profiles in Faith” highlights Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester of all ages and walks of life who are role models for living the faith. To suggest someone to profile, email Newsroom@CatholicCourier.com.

Tags: Profiles in Faith
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