BELLEVUE – A new group of young adults, Eastside Newman Catholic Students, had just gotten started at Bellevue College when COVID-19 hit the area.
That hasn’t stopped them from continuing to connect and develop the faith community they hope can become the first full-fledged Newman Center for college students on the east side of Lake Washington.
“The pastoral need has existed for a number of years,” said Brody Stewart, a fourth-year seminarian at Oregon’s Mount Angel Seminary who is spearheading the effort while assigned to St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue for his year of pastoral experience.
In fact, the need for and viability of a Newman Center at Bellevue College was documented by St. Louise’s parochial vicar, Father Carlos Orozco, when he was a seminarian assigned to St. Louise in 2017. He said that Father Gary Zender, St. Louise’s pastor, has wanted to do something at Bellevue College (which lies within the parish boundaries) and for local college students for a long time.
In January, Father Orozco celebrated the group’s first Mass at Bellevue College. “It was a real beautiful moment,” he said.
The young adults attending told Father Orozco they have little opportunity to meet other Catholic students on the east side of Lake Washington — they have to cross a bridge to find programs offered by the University of Washington Newman Center or campus ministry at Seattle University, he said.
“They’re interested and hungry for the sacraments,” Father Orozco said.
The first Mass at Bellevue College for the new Eastside Newman Catholic Students group was celebrated in late January by Father Carlos Orozco, parochial vicar at nearby St. Louise de Marillac Parish. During the coronavirus pandemic, the students have continued participating in their new community virtually. Photo: Courtesy Eastside Newman Catholic Students
Before coronavirus restrictions turned the Eastside Newman group into a virtual community, they hosted an ecumenical prayer service at the college on Ash Wednesday. Now, they stay in touch through seminarian Stewart’s “COVIDeo check-in” meetings.
“Pastoral ministry looks very different now,” Stewart said.
He also set up an Instagram account and a Flocknote page so the group can share inspirational messages and information about videoconference meetings. A Bible study was the biggest request from the students for the spring quarter, Stewart said, and now they are meeting virtually every Wednesday.
Although another group for young adults, Eastside Disciples, has been hosting gatherings since 2014, Stewart said “college students are their own, unique demographic, and they require a dedicated ministry [and] community to support them.”
One proposal being considered is hiring a coordinator to work with both groups, Stewart said in an email. During the pandemic, however, the Eastside Deanery has temporarily tabled discussion about new pastoral initiatives, he said.
Stewart, who will return to the seminary after the academic year ends, is a living witness to the power of campus ministry.
Raised “nominally Protestant” in Marysville, Stewart said, he became a Catholic after attending events at the Newman Center at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
“Jesus found me when I wasn’t looking for him,” Stewart said.