Our (Brief) History as a Catholic Newman Center
2017: The Newman Center in Kirksville Celebrates 50 years of campus ministry.
Northeast Missouri State University underwent a change from a regional state college to a liberal arts college, with an emphasis on preparing students with high academic achievement, and was renamed Truman State University.
They began to intentionally recruit students with strong academic achievement, as well as leadership in extra-curricular activities, from private high schools in St. Louis and Kansas City. These private high schools included mostly Catholic High Schools. The result was a dramatic increase of Catholic students at Truman State University.
Our Catholic Campus Ministry has grown, from serving around 20 students in the 1950’s, to 50 students in 1960’s, to 100 students in 1970’s, to 200 students in 1980’s, to 500 students in 1990’s into 2000’s.
2015: Chaplain of two decades passes away
Beloved Fr. Bill Kottenstette passed away, after almost 20 years of ministry at the Newman Center. Fr. Colin Franklin was welcomed as Newman’s Chaplain the following July.
2010: Blessed John Henry Newman beatified
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, for whom our center was named, was Beatified.
2010: Director of 21 years retires, new director named
After 21 years of ministry at the Newman Center, then Director Bettie Lescynski retired. A nation-wide search was held for her replacement, and Chris Korte was hired on as the new Director of the Catholic Newman Center.
2008: Rebuilding from the ashes
The current Newman Center building at 709 S. Davis was rebuilt, opened, and dedicated in November 2008.
2007: Catholic Newman Center building destroyed by fire.
In 2007, the Newman Center was destroyed by fire after getting hit by lightning during a storm. The Newman Community used a small blue house on Davis Street and met for Mass on campus. Lance Llewellyn was hired as Book-keeper, to manage accounting and communication for fundraising.
2000: The Newman Center expands to include room for more students.
By 1999, the Newman Center was too small. One Sunday, Father Bill Kottenstette saw students open the door to Newman and, finding standing room only, they left.
The decision was made to add on. We applied for grants and began raising money from parents, alumni, and friends. We contacted an architect and builder. The addition was estimated to cost $300,000.
By spring of 2000, we had half the money and began construction in May as soon as school was out. The multipurpose room was doubled and three rooms added on the side: lounge, library, and music library. The old library was turned into an office for the Chaplain. The blessing of the addition took place on November 3, 2000.
1996: Chaplain and inaugural director named
In 1996 Bettie Lescynski was made Director of the Newman Center, and Fr. Bill Kottenstette was made Chaplain.
1987-90: Newman Center relocates to Normal & Davis
Land on the SE corner of Normal and Davis Streets was purchased in August of 1987. As of February 1988, nearly $100,000 had been pledged to the project.
The Bishop then pledged a matching $100,000 from the parishes of the Diocese of Jefferson City. Total budget for the project was $350,000.
The yellow house on the corner was torn down under the direction of Mary Immaculate parishioner Phil Hebert. Construction was to begin in the summer of 1988, but then the project began to hit some major snags.
Because of cost overruns, the architect was asked to redesign the building. Then NMSU came to Fr. Les and offered to buy the corner lot in order to extend the greenway reaching from the dorms along Normal Street to the president’s home, which fronts Halliburton. So, in August of 1988, Newman sold the corner lot and bought two more lots south of the corner. The new building would now have to be designed to front Davis Street. In addition, the white house slated to be used for Cornerstone, the Catholic student house, now stood on the proposed building site and had to be moved to a new foundation two lots to the south, after the two houses standing there had also been demolished.
Groundbreaking for the new Center finally took place on NMSU’s Graduation Day in May 1989. After all his work of negotiation and fundraising, Fr. Les left the Newman Center before the actual construction began. In his wake came Fr. Kevin Clohessy, who presided over the excavation and the raising of the walls in late summer of 1989. Fr. Kevin held several well-attended Masses on the site and in the unfinished building. He and several helpers moved in to the facility in January 1990. The first regular Sunday liturgies were celebrated there on January 13 and 14. The Newman Center was officially dedicated in services on April 7, with a Mass by Bishop Michael McCauliffe of Jefferson City, and a Thanksgiving Mass celebrated by Fr. Kevin Clohessy on April 8, 1990.
1967: W. Dodson Facility houses the Catholic Newman Center.
After more than ten years of meeting in various locations on the NMSU campus, the Newman Club went looking for a permanent home. The two-story brick building at 414 W. Dodson was chosen for its size and location and purchased in 1967. The stucco on the outside began to fall off and the building was sided in 1978. This facility featured a large common room, a kitchen, and office for the director, a lounge, and a chaplain’s apartment that was later converted into a small chapel and a student apartment. For more than twenty years this building served the needs of the Newman community, but it slowly fell into a state of disrepair. Irreparable defects in the building, which was cold in winter and hot in summer and leaked rain in several places, often soaking valuable office equipment, forced Newman to decide in the 1986-1987 academic year to build a new facility. Fr. Leslie Niemeyer, then Newman Director, secured the permission of the Bishop, Michael McAuliffe, STD, to begin raising the necessary funds.
1955-1957: Director – Rev. Richard Carney
1957-1960: Sponsor – Rev. Norbert G. Adelman, C.PP.S.
1960-1962: Chaplain – Fr. Pau F. Bobay, C.PP.S.
1962-1966: Chaplain – Rev. J. Leon Allred
1966-1969: Chaplain – Fr. Luke Reichert
1969-1975: Director – Fr. John Whiteley
1975-1978: Director: Fr. Jim Schafer
1978-1983: Director – Fr. John Prenger
1983-1987: Director – Fr. Les Niemeyer
1987-1989: Director – Fr. Les Niemeyer, Secretary – Bettie Lesczynski
1989-1993: Director – Fr. Kevin Clohessy, Associate Campus Minister – Bettie Lescyznski
1993-1994: Chaplain – Fr. Dave Maher, Associate Campus Minister – Bettie Lescyznski
1994-1995: Chaplain – Fr. Don Crosby, Associate Campus Minister – Bettie Lescyznski
1996-2009: Chaplain – Fr. Bill Kottenstette, Director – Bettie Lesczynski
2009-2015: Chaplain – Fr. Bill Kottenstette, Director – Chris Korte
2015- 2020: Chaplain – Fr. Colin Franklin, Director – Chris Korte
2020-Present: Chaplain – Fr. Simeon Etonu, Director – Chris Korte