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University’s Catholic society says friendships not formal talks more effective at growing community

UQ Newman Society
Friendly Catholics: Newman Society president Georgina Devenish-Meares (front left) with the Newman Core Team at the University of Queensland. Photo: Newman Society

By Jonathan Yap

FRIENDSHIPS can often make or break a student’s university experience, but Catholics at the University of Queensland believe having good mates can also deepen a person’s faith.

UQ Newman Society president Georgina Devenish-Meares said friendships were more effective than formal talks in developing faith formation.

“I wouldn’t say we get a lot of formal formations at chaplaincy, but it’s still done a lot of good in terms of fellowship in helping people journey in their faith,” Ms Devenish-Meares said.

“We don’t always have talks at chaplaincy, our best formations have come from retreats and other social events.”

Last year saw a promising resurgence in the Newman Society with about 160 people attending the annual Newman Ball, which was the biggest event on the society’s social calendar.

With a lack of leadership in the society, two years ago, Ms Devenish-Meares along with other Catholic students took it upon themselves to renew the campus ministry.

“Newman Society was dormant at the time, all the executives just graduated or moved on,” she said.

“We set up an impromptu meeting at the chaplaincy to start up Newman (Society), (and) our first meeting just so happened to be on the feast day of Cardinal (St John Henry) Newman and we didn’t even plan that.”

Carrying forward on their momentum from last year, the Newman Society aims to focus on building friendships as the foundation of growing the group.

“Newman Society is just a bunch of people that want to share in faith, joy and life,” Ms Devenish-Meares said.

“Ultimately (it’s about) having fellowship together and the priority of that is always going to be relationships.”

With 50,000 students at UQ, Ms Devenish-Meares said friendships were crucial in helping young adults navigate through their daily struggles in both faith and life.

“It’s harder for younger people with a personal faith, just because we are living in a way that is counter cultural … you’re choosing to live an intentional life that is different than everybody else,” she said.

“I think relationships are so important because it’s a rare gift to be able to share in life deeply and honestly with true friends.”

Though fellowship was the priority, Ms Devenish-Meares said the Newman Society also intended to use chaplaincy as a space for evangelisation for people to learn about the beautiful diversity of the Catholic faith.

Acknowledging the role of chaplaincy on campus as a broad church, the Newman Society had made intentional efforts to connect with the broader Catholic community in Brisbane.

Newman Society has collaborated with the Emmanuel Community, Young Carmelites Group and the Verbum Dei Sisters in trying to make the Catholic faith more vibrant for young adults.

“Brisbane is unlike any other city in the Catholic community,” Ms Devenish-Meares said.

“It is so diverse that there’s opportunities for charismatic, traditional or, if you’re in between, there are so many opportunities available.”

For 2020 the Newman Society planned to host more social gatherings as well as encouraging members to develop their own fellowship experience among their friends.

The vision of the Newman Society not only extended to students on campus but also to other young adults outside the university who sought community. 

“Our chaplain priest (Franciscan) Fr Mario Debattista put it simply: ‘If everyone just brought one person along, imagine how much the society would grow’,” Ms Devenish-Meares said.

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