Students find a home with religiously affiliated housing

By Melissa Silverberg

When Kathryn Malley first came to the University from her small town of Yorkville, Ill., she was nervous about going to such a large school. That was before she found Newman Hall.

The niece of Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., Malley said she walked into Newman and immediately fell in love with the place. Four years later, Malley is a graduate of the University with a degree in psychology and the first person to hold the title of resident director at Newman.

“It was just such a good fit,” Malley said. “Right off the bat I met a lot of great people. I found a good home right away.”

Malley and the more than 550 residents of Newman Hall are just a fraction of more than 900 students living in religiously affiliated housing on campus.

“I think it just shows there are a lot of young people out there looking for something more,” said Brock Perkes, assistant resident director at Newman Hall and a senior in Business.

Newman Hall is connected with St. John’s Catholic Chapel and the Newman Center. The residence hall recently reopened in August after renovations costing more than $40 million, said Mark Randall, director of institutional advancement for Newman.

For years students have waited on lists to get into Newman, which was a large reason for the renovations. A seven-story tower and a four-story tower were added, giving Newman Hall an extra 250 rooms. The culmination of renovations at Newman will be celebrated Friday through Sunday with several dedication ceremonies, visiting alumni, special lectures and Sunday Mass.

“We’ve had a wonderful ministry for 80 years and we are very excited for the future,” said the Rev. Greg Ketcham, director and head Catholic chaplain of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center.

Out of 2,100 Newman centers in the nation, the Illinois center is the only one in the nation with a residence facility attached to it, Randall said.

Newman is not the only religious living choice on campus, but it is the largest. Other choices include the newest, and only environmentally friendly hall on campus, Presby Hall. Presby is supported by the McKinley Presbyterian Church and Foundation, said Marc McConney, graduate student and front desk worker at Presby.

Presby Hall can house 256 students, but only housed about 240 at time of press. Suites at Presby are brand-new, have living rooms, full kitchens, washers and dryers in the unit and two bathrooms each.

Aside from Newman and Presby halls, students can also live in other, smaller religiously affiliated housing locations such as the Orthodox Christian Center, the 3:12 House, Stratford House, Koinonia, Nabor House, the Christian Campus House or the University YMCA. All of these facilities are overseen by Private Certified Housing, said Mari Anne Brocker, assistant director of Private Certified Housing.

“Denomination is not a requirement for any of these housing options,” Brocker said. “We just try to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment.”

Brocker said one of the reasons the University is home to so many religious living choices is that it is one of the only schools in the nation to have privately owned housing.

Private Certified Housing and even the land it is built on is not owned at all by the University, which allows religiously affiliated housing options at a public university.

“It’s really not about cramming religion down people’s throats,” Brocker said. “It is more about promoting conversations and dialogues about religion with different people in the same space.”

While four out of every five students at Newman are Catholic, many students living there observe different religions.

“Catholic really means universal, so we strive to create a universal environment,” Perkes said.

Presby Hall does not ask students their religion, and it is in no way a requirement. McConney said they are host to a range of ethnicities and religions.

No other school in the Big Ten has religiously affiliated housing to the extent that Illinois does, if they have any such housing at all.

“I think it helps add to the diversity here because students have so many different options that they may not have had at another university,” Brocker said.

However, Ketcham said religious living is “becoming a new phenomenon” on college campuses and that other schools are looking toward Illinois as an example of religious housing on a secular campus.

While some may believe that housing so many students of one religion together could harm campus diversity, those who have chosen to become tenants of religious residences on campus disagree.

“I don’t think you can avoid being exposed to the diverse community here, whether it’s on the Quad, Green Street or anywhere else,” Randall said. “You are going to experience diversity here at Illinois whether you like it or not.”

Newman is all about tradition, Randall said. There are students who had parents, grandparents or other family members stay.

“Where you choose to live is a private decision. People live where they are comfortable and with people they identify with,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in meeting people from other walks of life.”

Many students like Malley and Perkes enjoyed their experiences so much that they choose to stay in their selected religious housing throughout their undergraduate education. Newman Hall has the highest retention rate of all halls on campus, said Ketcham.

“It’s more than just a residence hall,” Perkes said.