Aaron Hoff does not remember his baptism. After all, he was only an infant.
Hoff knows he was baptized at St. Mary Church in Norfolk. He imagines his parents and godparents were proud. The water poured on the crown of his head could have been cold. Maybe it was warm. He doesn’t remember if he cried. According to his parent and baptismal record, the Rev. Joseph C. Taphorn was the minister who administered the sacrament. A celebration would have followed the baptism.
Even though he does not remember that life-giving occasion, Hoff knows something about the effects of baptism and the duties of the baptized. He learned about the sacraments at Norfolk Catholic Elementary School and Norfolk Catholic Junior/Senior High School where he is in his last year. He would have learned from his parents, teachers and parish priests that one of the effects of baptism is to grow in goodness or the moral virtues. Moreover, he would have learned that the baptized belong to Christ and have the duty to serve others in the Church and that they must participate in the Church’s missionary activity.
This understanding and living out of the baptismal call is why Hoff was accepted to the St. John Paul II Newman Center, the spiritual home for UNO students and its apartment-style housing set to open in the fall.
“It is great to have the opportunity to live in a place where I will be supported in my faith,” Hoff said.
Hoff also enjoys the support of his parents Kerry and Karla. They recently toured the Newman Center site with their son. Like Aaron, they know how easy it is for a college student to fall away from his or her faith.
“College students get to enjoy freedom when they live away from home,” Hoff said. “That makes it important for a student to stay close to the faith.”
Before students are accepted to the Newman Center, they must be interviewed by the staff there. Hoff was interviewed by Adam Ybarra – the center’s resident manager. Ybarra has worked in relational ministry for 15 years. He said his experience gives him a heightened sense about people.
“When I met Aaron, I encountered a young man who wanted to understand who the Lord was calling him to be,” Ybarra said. “Aaron’s excitement grew as we talked about the mission and student life at the Newman Center. He will have an immediate impact on residential life and the JPII Newman Center.”
Ybarra said it did not take him long to identify leadership skills in Hoff. He invited the incoming freshman to consider leadership development opportunities that the center will offer and to pursue the many opportunities to deepen his faith life.
Looking back, Hoff had a different vision of his college experience. He was sure collegiate football was in his future. The sport was important to him. He was a good offensive and defensive lineman, starting three years for Norfolk Catholic
Then the game he loved so much was briefly taken from him. A severe knee injury reduced his playing time last fall. Suddenly the task of filling out admission applications took on a different meaning. Hoff thought less about his forty-yard-dash time or maximum bench press; he focused more on sharing with admission departments his academic success, extra-curricular activities and service to his community. It dawned on him that his record in those categories was just as exemplar as his success on the football field. To name a few:
- honor roll student, National Honor Society
- campus ministry
- newspaper staff
- band, jazz band, choir
- counselor at the parish summer camp
- class officer, Future Problem Solver of America
It’s okay with Hoff that he won’t be huddling with teammates on a playing field in the fall. That’s because he knows he’ll be huddling with teammates on a much larger field – the vast mission territory of an urban campus and the territory beyond the campus boundaries.
“I can’t wait to get involved with Newman Center students, staff and UNO’s FOCUS missionaries,” Hoff said. “They are good people to be around.”
The Archdiocese of Omaha is the owner-operator of the 100,000-square-foot center, which will include a chapel, apartment-style housing for 164 students, indoor-outdoor fireplace and courtyard, prayer garden, study lounges, a fourth-floor outdoor rooftop deck, social space and a rectory for two priests.
Its location on the southeast corner of 71st & Pacific Streets in Aksarben Village provides easy access to bike trails, shopping and entertainment offerings, dining variety, Baxter Arena, UNO shuttle services and medical facilities.
The JPII Newman Center will be where students can live with others in support of their faith, where they can spend even their recreation and study time surrounded by a positive, encouraging environment.
Students will have opportunities for Bible study, community service and other ministry programs through the center. There will be opportunities for prayer and discernment of vocations, including religious ones.
Hoff knows residing at the Newman Center will help him live out his baptism in a more mature way. If he’s tempted to misuse the freedom that comes with living away from home, Hoff only has to remember that he has recourse to Father Joe Taphorn –executive director of the St. John Paul II Newman Center and the priest who baptized him at St. Mary Church in Norfolk. He may not remember it, but Father Taphorn was the first to tell Hoff that true freedom comes from growing in virtue, belonging to Christ and serving others.