The group of priests who have run the Catholic ministry at Ohio State University for 65 years will be departing at the end of July — a move their director described as "devastating" — following a decision by the new bishop of the Diocese of Columbus.
Bishop Earl Fernandes, who was installed on May 31, has appointed a new leader for the St. Thomas More Newman Center — which serves Ohio State students, faculty and staff as well as community members — and said it will have a new vision going forward.
While the diocese said it was grateful for the service of the Paulist Fathers, an independent order of priests who have led the center for decades, and indicated that they would be welcome to stay on as pastors, the leader of the national order put things differently.
The Rev. Rene Constanza, president of the New York-based Paulist Fathers, who were asked by the Columbus bishop in 1956 to run the Newman Center, penned a letter that was sent to the center's mailing list Thursday afternoon stating the new bishop "has decided to end the Paulist Fathers’ service at the St. Thomas More Newman Center, effective July 31."
A separate letter sent Thursday to parishioners by the local center's director, the Rev. Ed Nowak, said: "Bishop Fernandes has informed us that he no longer wants the Paulists to be in charge of the ministry here."
Constanza said in the letter the change follows the bishop's decision to change the center's leadership and intention to "make significant changes to the nature of the ministry to align with the bishop’s vision for St. Thomas More Newman Center."
A proposed memorandum of understanding between the diocese and the Paulist Fathers that was provided to the Dispatch stated that the Paulist Fathers and the center would welcome more lay movements. The movements included some already offered at the center — such as the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) — and some that are not, such as Courage and Opus Dei.
Courage refers to Courage International, a ministry for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and who, according to its website, are “committed to helping one another live chaste lives marked by prayer, fellowship and mutual support.”
Under the Paulist Fathers, the Newman Center was rated as an LGBTQ-friendly parish, along with one other in the Diocese of Columbus, by New Ways Ministry, a Catholic outreach group that advocates for the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the church.
Fernandes appointed the Rev. Adam Streitenberger, the diocese's director of evangelization, as the executive director of the Newman Center, the diocese announced in a release Thursday afternoon. He will begin on July 12.
Streitenberger will direct and manage the center and implement a student-focused vision, according to the diocese.
“This is the first step in an exciting and renewed vision for vocations and evangelization within the Diocese of Columbus, in which the St. Thomas More Newman Center will play a vital role," Fernandes said in the statement.
Nowak said he and others are shocked, angry and "devastated" at the news.
"Everyone is experiencing shock and outrage and using words like 'unconscionable' about the decision and trying to wrap their minds around it," Nowak said.
There are four Paulist Fathers living and serving at the center, including the Rev. Vinny McKiernan, who is 91 and has served the center for more than 30 years.
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"In a diocese that is short of priests and personnel, to lose three able-bodied men overnight does seem unconscionable, and people are questioning that," Nowak told The Dispatch.
In addition to students, faculty and staff, there are community members who worship at the campus ministry, which operates as a parish and hosts regular Masses in addition to Bible studies and activities and events for students.
The center also operates Buckeye Catholics, a student organization at Ohio State.
"It's the end of a very significant piece of history and it's sad," said Paul Snatchko, the director of marketing and communications for the Paulist Fathers. "We have these wonderful relationships with people, and the people there have been so supportive."
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The diocese's release discussed the "incredible opportunity" that Ohio State offers, with more than 60,000 students.
Nowak, who has been the director for four years and served there for more than five, said the fathers have been on the cutting edge of reaching out to people and that the diocese is losing people who know what they're doing.
"When the bishop says he wants to make this a diocesan center of evangelization, he's losing resources," he said. "The diocese is just losing out on a really good resource."
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"This is a terrible shock to all of us," Nowak said in the letter. "We have truly been a spiritual family to each other, and this moment of loss and grief feels like losing beloved family members."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State's Catholic student ministry to get new leader, vision