By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
CEDAR FALLS — “Happy anniversary!” Father Ken Glaser said as he welcomed students, families, alumni, benefactors and guests of St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center to a special Mass on Sunday, April 10 to mark 25 years in the current facility on West 23rd Street on the University of Northern Iowa campus in Cedar Falls.
The Mass was concelebrated by Archbishop Michael Jackels and Archbishop Jerome Hanus; as well as Father Glaser, present-day director of the Catholic student center; Father Donald Klein, director of the student center when the current facility was built; and Father Andrew Windschitl, a priest of the Des Moines Diocese and a UNI graduate. Deacon Len Froyen, a retired member of the UNI faculty, assisted at the Mass.
“This is an important place,” declared Archbishop Jackels at the beginning of the morning homily. He explained that the student center is an important place “in our archdiocese, for our archdiocese,” because most of the students it serves are from Iowa, from the Archdiocese of Dubuque itself, and since most of them will continue living in the area even after they graduate, he said the spiritual services they receive are a benefit to the archdiocese and its ministries.
Archbishop Jackels also said that St. Stephen the Witness is important, because it is there for college students when they are at a pivotal point in their lives and their faith journeys. Many of them are away from home for the first time, “testing the waters of independence,” and “I don’t mean Independence, Iowa,” he joked. He said the center is a resource when students are seeking meaning and purpose and “looking for answers to life’s big questions.”
During Mass, Father Glaser thanked Archbishop Jackels and Archbishop Hanus, as well as the other two priests and the deacon for their presence. He also introduced a few other special guests who were in the pews and asked them to stand: Jeff Henderson, the development director for the Archdiocese of Dubuque; and William Ruud, the president of UNI, and his wife, Judy.
Addressing the many UNI alumni who also had made the trip back to campus to be part of the anniversary Mass, Father Glaser said, “We are excited you are here to share your story and celebrate these events.”
Father Glaser then introduced two speakers who were there to make a couple of brief presentations, the first of which was Paul Lee, a UNI alumnus, who spoke on behalf of the Knights of Columbus. Lee presented Father Glaser with a check in the amount of $8,250 from the KC State Council for St. Stephen the Witness and its ministry.
Ted Kofoed, a UNI student, was introduced next. He read an email from Archbishop Daniel Kucera, who was not able to be at the celebration in Cedar Falls. The email was addressed to Father Glaser. “While our wonderful Archbishops and you celebrate Mass I shall offer my Mass here in Thanksgiving,” said the email from the retired archbishop who lives at Stonehill Care Center in Dubuque. “May God’s blessings abide in St. Stephen’s as you prepare for the next 25 years,” the last line of the email read.
Father Glaser also had an important announcement regarding St. Stephen’s finances. He explained that in 2008, when it was more than $800,000 in debt from the building of its new facility, the student center entered into an agreement with the Finance Council of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Per the agreement, if St. Stephen the Witness would commit to increasing its development revenue, work within its annual budget and work on building an endowment, the archdiocese would forgive its debt by an amount of $100,000 per year. “On this 25th anniversary it is with great joy that I proclaim that St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center is debt free!” said Father Glaser, his words met with a church-full of applause.
A reception followed Mass downstairs where beverages and appetizers were served. A video, created by Joe Marchesani, an assistant professor and coordinator of TV/audio services at UNI, and one of his students Brook Girkin, was played at the reception. It highlighted some of the history of St. Stephen the Witness.
Founded in 1897, the Catholic student center is the oldest and the largest student organization at UNI. Alumna Anna McGovern is credited with organizing the first group of Catholic students at the university. The Catholic student center gained a physical presence on campus when the group took over a two-story house on the southeast corner of College and 23rd Streets in 1948, and got its current name, St. Stephen the Witness, in 1966. Ground was broken and construction began on the current structure at 1019 West 23rd in the fall of 1990 and was dedicated at a Mass on April 7, 1991.
St. Stephen the Witness has served countless students since it moved in to its new facility 25 years ago. One of them is Jen Erwin, a 2002 graduate of UNI, who came back to attend the April 10 anniversary Mass. Referencing a phrase often used at the student center “Don’t just go to church. Be church,” Erwin said of her time at the student center. “We became church from day one. It was a place to meet lifelong friends who lived the same faith as us.”
In Erwin’s case, not only was it a place she made friends, it’s also where she met her husband, George, who was a fellow student when she attended UNI. George joined his wife at the 25th anniversary Mass and reception.
Just like their predecessors, many current UNI students find that the student center helps them stay anchored to their faith while in college. Ashley Chizeck, a senior at Northern Iowa and a Clear Lake native, said, “St. Stephen’s is a place where we can renew our faith as students with busy lives. We are able to come together and take time for what is really important.”
The Sunday Mass and reception at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center were part of a two-day anniversary celebration that began on April 9 with an afternoon open house, followed by a Saturday evening Mass presided by Father Klein, a social and then a dinner.
Photo: (l to r) Father Donald Klein, Father Andrew Windschitl, Archbishop Michael Jackels, Father Kenneth Glaser and Archbishop Emeritus Jerome Hanus, OSB, concelebrate Mass April 10.