Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Inside the Newman Center’s homey space, fraternity neighbors

Arwen Clemans | Staff Photographer
The Newman Catholic Student Center on F Street

Along a street of frat houses across from the Smith Center stands a bright blue townhouse — the hub of the Catholic student presence on campus.

The Newman Center acts as the home base for Catholic student organizations like GW Catholics and Friends of Knights of Columbus, an organization focused on hosting prayer services and events for male Catholic students on campus. As fraternity events rage next door, the center gathers students in its chapel for a nightly Mass, offered on weeknights at 6:10 p.m. and confession, offered on weeknights from 5:30 to 6 p.m.

Rae Grabowski, the Newman Center’s campus minister, said the center helps students stay connected with their Catholicism as they juggle other college responsibilities and build relationships with other students by providing a place to hang out during the day.

“The Newman Center’s role is to foster the faith of Catholic students at GW to try and give them a spiritual home while they’re at college,” Grabowski said.

After walking up the iron stairs and entering the tall blue door of the Newman Center, a narrow and steep staircase leads visitors to office spaces for the campus minister. The main level features a library that students use to do homework and spend time together and translucent doors that open up to the center’s chapel.

The narrow room of the chapel feels small, but Grabowski said it can hold about 50 people. She said the chapel tends to be about half full for the center’s Tuesday services, with 15 to 25 students attending Mass. The area is reminiscent of what one imagines a traditional Catholic church to look like, despite its location in a Foggy Bottom townhouse: pews with kneelers, books in the pockets of the benches, an altar and glass windows. In contrast to the reverent space, just back down the stairs, the basement features a kitchen and lounge where students can unwind and cook together.

Grabowski said the center offers confessions with the Newman Center Chaplain Stefan Megyery, either face to face or in a confessional, a booth that divides the priest from students during the sacrament. She said Tuesday night Masses are often the most popular events of the week since they feature a dinner afterward where students can relax and eat together in the basement. The meal involves a free home-cooked dinner for students. 

Grabowski said the center is often used as a space to socialize and relax, but sometimes students have “caught themselves” being a bit too social — almost letting curse words slip in the townhouse with her around.

Grabowski said the center also offers religious retreats and talks on Catholic social teaching from center staff and guests including George Weigel, a Pope John Paul II biographer. She said students consider the center a home where they can “spend some time with Jesus” and escape a bad day.

“We’re in a townhouse so in a lot of ways, it becomes a proxy actual home as well,” Grabowski said. “Students will cook themselves lunch in the kitchen and hang out here between classes. So kind of a social hub but one that hopefully connects them to the spiritual side as well.”

Grabowski said interactions with the center’s fraternity neighbors can be “interesting.” She said when the weather gets nicer and fraternity members spend time in the backyard, students can hear the fraternities’ daytime parties from the chapel. Grabowski said the Newman Center has adjusted the scheduling of its weekly board meetings to accommodate members of GW Catholics involved in Greek life on campus who often have fraternity or sorority events at the same time.

“My understanding is that that time was chosen because it’s after chapter meetings for Greek life, so taking that into account in our schedule,” said Grabowski.

Miguel Solis, the director of liturgy and prayer for the Newman Center, said he uses the space to get away from every day stressors and get to know friends as well as participate in services. 

Solis is also the president of the GWU Knights of Columbus, a men’s prayer and service group. He said the group is a “fraternal organization” that mainly focuses on community service. Solis said the organization hosts events like pancake breakfasts that raise money for Catholic charities and coordinate Masses. 

Megan Clancy, the student president of GW Catholics, said she goes to the Newman Center every day and has met some of her “closest friends” there.

“When I started going to the Newman Center, I met people who were looking to get to know me, not because they wanted something from me or they wanted to know what my resume was or how I could help them in their career pursuits,” said Clancy. “It’s like ‘No, I just want to get to know you because you exist, and you’re here and you’re a beautiful child of God.’”

Clancy said she thinks the center’s smaller chapel is a cozy and special space for her to pray. She said while the Newman Center chapel is smaller than a typical chapel, it’s “different in a good way.”

“The fact that I can go to Mass on campus is just really, really wonderful,” said Clancy. “It’s the high point of my day, it’s what I look forward to. So the fact that we’re able to offer that to people is super important.”

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