Residence for UVic Catholic students opens

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Female Roman Catholic students at UVic now have their own student residence. On Oct. 21, Victoria Bishop Richard Gagnon and UVic Catholic Chaplain Dean Henderson officially opened Bethany House, a six-bedroom, off-campus residence for Catholic students, through a ritual of blessing.

Henderson hopes that the residence and its all-male counterpart — Newman House, which opened in 2011 — will provide Catholic students with a community of faith and support during their time at UVic.

Henderson cites John Henry Newman, a 19th-century Catholic convert from the Church of England, as a central influence behind the openings of the residences. Newman, upon his conversion, was ostracized from Oxford University.

“He knew that to be Catholic in a non-Catholic university was a very difficult calling,” says Henderson. “Christians in general, Catholics specifically, have consistently come to me complaining that they encounter prejudicial, sometimes hostile, and frequently ignorant comments and attitudes towards their faith during their university experience.  Therefore, the encouragement of friendship, of shared values and faith, is very important.”

Newman House is currently home to five male students, with Bethany House housing six female students. All rent and utilities are paid for by the students, making the residences entirely self-financed. Henderson assisted in finding and acquiring the houses and furniture, but from now on will simply provide chaplaincy. He declined to provide the addresses of both residencies, citing concerns for student privacy and safety.

Students living at Newman House participate in common prayer and worship, attending mass at UVic’s Interfaith Chapel and participating in activities organized by the Catholic Students Association on campus.

Though the residences are not officially endorsed by the university, Henderson says that there is general support for them. “If it helps with student retention, a healthy sense of well-being that contributes to a holistic sense of academic success, then yes,” he says.

Joel Lynn, UVic’s executive director of student services, confirms this.

“It is not officially endorsed by the university; that’s correct,” says Lynn. “But we work with all the faith communities to assist them in establishment of targeted housing programs. The university wishes them well.”

Though Henderson says that Newman House’s “specific charisma is to provide a safe haven for Catholics on non-Catholic and non-Christian campuses,” he also emphasizes the residence as being a positive spiritual presence at the university. He says there are Newman Houses at four other Canadian university campuses.

Lutheran students and Jewish students at UVic have off-campus residences at Luther House and Hillel House.

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