Saint Newman: The Catholic Church's Newest Saint

Dr. John Freeh, director of the Newman Institute, traveled with a group of our students to Rome for the canonization Mass of Saint John Henry Newman, the Newman Center's patron and namesake, on October 13th.

There, students had a plethora of rare opportunities they say, “will only happen when you travel with the well-connected Dr. Freeh!” The group met Cardinal Robert Sarah and gifted him a HuskerCatholic mug, shirt, and booklet of Newman's writings. They received a blessing by Pope Francis; met with Father Ian Ker, who is regarded as the leading authority on John Henry Newman; and even “crashed” a British Embassy reception where one of our students informed Prince Charles what a Husker is. Bishop Conley was able to accompany them throughout the trip and offered Mass at St. John XXIII’s crypt at St. Peter’s Basilica on the saint's feast day. Listen to Dr. Freeh in a post-trip interview on Spirit Catholic radio.

To extend the festivities locally Father Matya installed some temporary banners near the entrance of our Newman Center, depicting inspiring quotes and portraits of the new saint, and offered Newman bookmarks and a booklet collection of Newman’s writings to Mass-goers. It was also an appropriate day to teach students about the life of Newman and how he is still influencing our lives and the Church today. In his homily, Father Matya noted that the authentic friendships being born through the Newman Center are an appropriate tribute to Saint Newman and a visible sign of Newman’s motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (“Heart speaks to heart”).


SNR Article: Newman Institute caps year with pilgrimage

LINCOLN (NI/SNR) - “Faith gives freedom” is the essential lesson Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati taught his peers and to all who knew him, according to the 91-year-old niece of the dynamic Italian whom St. John Paul II called the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”


Wanda Gawronska recently spoke about her famous uncle with students from the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture who attended this year’s 12-day pilgrimage (May 10-21), which included a papal audience, visits to Rome’s major basilicas and churches, participation in several lectures and talks, a midnight prayer walk to the Shrine of Divina Amore, and a three-hour private tour of the Vatican Observatory given by astrophysicist Father David Brown, S.J.

Gawronska, who hosted 11 Institute students and staff at her Rome apartment, said she frequently cites Pier Giorgio’s conviction, written in a letter from 1923, that freedom was “the most beautiful and best thing that God has given to all men.”

Beatified in 1990, Frassati was known as a layman with a great love of life who shared his vibrant faith with others and gave money to support the poor and suffering of Turin, Italy, before dying at the age of 24. 

“Pier Giorgio is an example of what freedom faith gives to your judgment,” Gawronska said. “The usual thought is that religion – if you believe in something – you become close-minded. It’s exactly the opposite, because faith gives you the freedom of judgment, independence from what’s fashionable or not fashionable. You’re really looking for truth, no? And for Pier Giorgio this is [what’s] notable.”

Dr. John Freeh, director of the Newman Institute, said the visit with Gawronska was one of several opportunities for students to deepen their knowledge of Catholic faith and culture during the pilgrimage, which also included day trips to Assisi and to San Giovanni Rotondo, where St. Pio (Padre Pio) lived and died.

“This was our second annual trip to Italy,” Dr. Freeh said. “Wanda summed up well the reason for our pilgrimage when she described Rome as the heart of the Church and the heart of our culture. It’s a unique opportunity for our students to see those places associated with Christianity and, more importantly, to pray at the tombs of Peter and Paul, Gregory the Great, Monica, Ignatius, John Paul, and so many other heroes and heroines of salvation history.”

In addition to visiting the holy sites of the city, including the catacombs of St. Pancras and the Scavi (excavations) beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, students were treated to a lecture on the papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, given by Father Roberto Regoli, who teaches Church history at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

“Like our Newman Institute classes,” Dr. Freeh said, “this venture, as with our other trips and activities, aims at complementing and underscoring what we read and reflect on in the great books tradition. In Shakespeare’s words, the pilgrimage gives a ‘local habitation and a name’ to the literature we study during the academic year. It’s one thing to read Virgil or Marcus Aurelius or St. Paul, quite another to walk where they walked, see what they saw.”

Sophomore UNL student Maureen Winter agreed: “Everywhere we went, I was overcome by beauty…. And I can’t even begin to describe how close I felt to the saints. I don’t think I’ll ever forget praying at St. Paul Outside the Walls, asking his intercession for all the missionaries I know, for his zeal to come into my actions.”

Newman Institute pilgrims met several times with Lincoln priests and seminarians who work and study in Rome. Msgr. Thomas Fucinaro and Msgr. Richard Gyhra organized a special meal for the group on Pentecost, Father Matthew Rolling celebrated Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s, at the Chapel of the Patrons of Europe, and seminarians Andrew Schwenka, Joseph Wahlmeier and James O’Neill hosted the group for Sunday Mass and brunch at the North American College.

“Two of the English homilies pointed out our individual vocations,” said UNL pre-nursing student Karissa Dicke. “This was so beautiful. Among the many saints that we often look to imitate, we are reminded that we all have our own path and that we are uniquely called by God. The saints were so incredible, not because they were cookie-cutter, but because they lived out the vocation that God had specially planned for them. We are called to this great sainthood, to live out God’s truth, beauty and goodness, day by day.”

UNL junior Scott Schieuer, who will enter St. Gregory the Great Seminary this fall, said: “When we got to pray before Peter’s bones, [I] recalled His words… : ‘Prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ And this really filled me with a spirit of gratitude that informed the entirety of the pilgrimage.”

Freeh said that the Newman Institute will likely organize a return trip to Rome in October to attend the canonization of Pope Paul VI. For 2019, the Institute will organize a mission trip to New Mexico, Freeh said. The May trip will be a two-week walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the burial place of St. James.

The Institute will offer two undergraduate courses in the fall semester: “Introduction to the Great Books I: Seekers, Sojourners and Pilgrims” and “Love and Friendship,” a seminar that will study works by Aristotle, Augustine, Shakespeare and Willa Cather, among others. Undergraduates can earn college credit for the courses through St. Gregory the Great, and then transfer those credits to UNL or other area institutions.

Additionally, the Institute will offer for the first time two evening seminars for non-undergraduates: “Keys to the Kingdom: Seven Encyclicals for the Modern World” and “The Poetry of the Psalms.” More information on courses and other activities, including the fall Reborn in Wonder Lecture series, is available at

See more photos from the Pilgrimage here.
See original article in the Southern Nebraska Register here.

Alumni in Action: James O'Neil


“James O'Neil . . . the North American College, Rome.”  When Bishop Conley sat down with the senior class of St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, NE, these were words I didn’t expect to hear.  We had been looking forward to receiving our assignments for many weeks, and it was with both excitement and some trepidation that we waited for the bishop to turn to each of us and tell us where we would be spending our next four years of seminary.  I was last in line, and by the time the bishop turned to me I thought I knew what he would say.  I certainly did not.

Before entering seminary in 2014, I attended the University of Nebraska.  I was only in Lincoln for one brief year, but that year has decidedly shaped my life.  On beginning college I joined Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity, and there I found something I hadn’t fully experienced before—men my age who were active in the faith and dedicated to living it out.  In this environment, it was easy to get involved in the Newman Center.  I began attending daily Mass, and through Newman Center events like community nights and Koinonia retreats I made many good friends.  

It was also through the Newman Center that I decided to enter seminary.  A powerful prayer experience on a FOCUS retreat—really, a unique encounter with the Holy Spirit—convinced me to try it out, and less than two weeks later I sat down in Fr. Matya’s office and he handed me an application.  Now I’ve been in the seminary for three years, and have four years still to go.  It’s been challenging, but fruitful.  And soon I will begin the next stage of my discernment in my new assignment in Rome.  While the reality of Rome has not fully sunk in, I am honored and excited for the unique experience of living and studying in the Eternal City.  I will leave for Rome this summer, and, God willing, after four years I will be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. 

I ask that you keep myself and all of my brother seminarians in your prayers as we continue our studies and our discernment! Know that you are in our prayers as well.

-James O'Neil