The Value of a Catholic Community - Dr. Peter Baltutis

The Value of a Catholic Community - By Peter Baltutis

I had the great privilege of living at the Newman Centre as a Student Campus Minister (2002-2003 and 2004-2005), working as the Director of Outreach Ministries (2004-2008), and living in the Newman Centre basement apartment with my wife and children (2006-2012).  Being an active member of the Newman community for ten years, it is impossible to summarize all of the wonderful memories that I made during this period.  In this brief article, I would like to explain the crucial role that the Newman Centre played during my first year in Toronto. 

In 2002, I was accepted into the University of Toronto for a MA in History.  Arriving from the United States, I was starting at a new university, in a new city, and in a new country.  Discovering the Newman Centre was an answered prayer.  As I look back upon this pivotal year in my life, the Newman Centre provided two essential components that allowed me to thrive.

First, the Newman Centre allowed me to grow on a spiritual level.  While I had been involved in my home parish growing up, it was nothing like the spiritual oasis of the Newman Centre!  I found it very inspiring to be surrounded every Sunday by hundreds of young adults—my own age—united in worship.  The dynamic preaching from professional theologians pushed me to consider my faith in exciting new ways.  The talented and creative musicians always touched my soul.  The living witness of those in consecrated life was profound.  The spiritual highlight of this first year was when Father Pat O’Dea invited me to join the organizing team for a young adult retreat.  Spending a weekend away in prayer to deepen my connection to Christ, and to my fellow Newman-ites, was a powerful experience!  (Full disclosure: it was on this retreat that I formed a strong connection with another retreatant, Leanne, who later became my wife!)

Second, the Newman Centre provided a rich social atmosphere that fostered community.  Along with my fellow Student Campus Minister, Greg O’Leary, we created the “Newman Social Club” (the forerunner of the Newman Catholic Student Club).  Whether it was taking groups to Blue Jay games, visiting Centre Island, playing sports, going to the movies, or hosting parties, I felt incredibly connected to the city and to the “Newman family.”  Perhaps our most successful social event was the 2003 St. Patrick’s Day Dance that featured a live Irish Band and ceili.  This festive evening united the entire community (from the very young to the young-at-heart).  In fact, we had to turn people away at the door to avoid breaking the fire code!  As was later articulated by Pope Francis in “The Joy of Gospel”, these community-building activities became a powerful tool for evangelization.  Every week, dozens of young adults chose to spend time at the Newman Centre not because they had to, but because they wanted to!  In creating a community that was dynamic and fun, we first bonded on a social level, which then allowed us to bond on a spiritual level.

I am forever grateful that I found the Newman Centre all those years ago.  Having a strong spiritual and social community provided the perfect balance to the academic rigours of graduate school.   

Dr. Peter Baltutis is an Assistant Professor of History and Catholic Studies at St. Mary’s University in Calgary.


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