It’s a big word.
At the University of Oregon, students have faith in a lot of things. Some have faith in the football team. Some have faith in themselves and their academic abilities. Some have faith in the idea that no one should ever have class on a Friday. And others have faith in God.
At the University of Oregon, there are nearly 30 religious student organizations on campus. While the university’s webpage on diversity provides statistics on the ethnic makeup of the school, it is lacking specifics that pertain to how many students partake in faith based organizations. This might point to why some students are completely unaware of their presence on campus.
“I honestly had no idea,” senior Kristine Gerron said. “I am pretty involved on campus, but I only ever hear about the occasional religious gathering. I feel like if it matters to you, it matters a lot. If it doesn’t, you just kind of focus on other things.”
Gerron was not brought up in any particular religion, and does not feel that her college experience was lessened because of it.
“Eugene is generally so accepting of everyone. I have friends that affiliate every which way religiously, and there is never a lack of respect. We can all put religion aside and just hang out as people who get along,” she said.
This year, a poll by Gallup named Oregon the sixth least religious state in the union. These numbers are consistent with data provided by Lane County that says in Eugene, 24.5 percent of the population associates with a religions congregation, about half of the national percentage. Of those who subscribe to a certain faith, 20 percent are Catholic.
Enter the Newman Center, Eugene’s Catholic student organization. The Newman Center serves students from the University of Oregon, as well as from Lane Community College and Northwest Christian University. It is a part of the Religious Director’s Association at the University of Oregon, and provides a variety of leadership opportunities for students in Eugene.
“I’ve learned how to be a better friend, a better person and a better leader,” Aimee Fritsch, junior at the University of Oregon said about her involvement with The Newman Center. “Coming in as an exuberant freshman who wanted to do everything, I got the experience of getting to lead as a part of the Student Activities Leadership Team, and as the Spirituality Minister my sophomore year. In that role, I got more experience in organizing and putting on events, as well as working with other leaders and community members. Now, I’m in the very beginnings of my role as Peer Minister, the equivalent of a Student Director in another organization, and I can only look with hope at the growth and journey that is yet to come.”
Fritsch says that her parents went to church with her until she was 12, and she calls her religious background her choice. In coming to the University of Oregon, she has learned more about her faith in the low-key parts of life—coffee with friends and casual conversations allow her to challenge herself and see her faith in action.
“The experiences I had with church are a huge part of who I am today,” Fritsch said. “They impacted how I view the world, the friendships I have, the habits that are a part of my life, even how I respond to day to day events. All of these were shaped by my experiences with my faith.”
When Fritsch came to college she chose to continue her journey in faith. Not all students make the same choice.
“I just got so wrapped up in school and extracurriculars that my churchgoing fell by the wayside,” Sarah Russell, a junior transfer student said. “I came to this school my sophomore year from Cal Poly. My involvement at this school has been exponentially higher than when I was in California. I put all of my energy into things like classes, my jobs, my sorority, and being healthy. I still am, like, spiritual but I don’t really do activities for it. If I had time, I might, but church isn’t what faith is about for me. I think it’s cool when people have the discipline to go, though. I respect it so much.”
Russell loves the University of Oregon, and said that she really feels like she has found herself here. She did so without subscribing to a certain faith, and she does not think going to church would have changed her spirituality in any way.
Fritsch, on the other hand, finds strength in her faith on her journey to find herself.
“My faith has also been a core part of discovering who I am as an adult,” Fritsch said. “Like any college student I’ve gone through the process of discovering how I interact in groups of my peers, where I stand, and how I stand. My faith gives me security and confidence as I make that journey.”
Fritsch’s faith in college has not just been limited to the Newman Center. She currently lives in the Christus House, a Christian community house just south of the University of Oregon’s campus. While the Newman Center is a strictly Catholic organization, the Christus house hosts residents from various Christian denominations.
“It’s a different experience from the Newman Center. It’s a house, so not only do I interact with people at our weekly Bible Study and house meeting, I’m living with them, sharing everything, everyday,” Fritsch said. “It creates a group that feels more like family than a group of friends.”
Fritsch likes that the house has students of different denominations living in it.
“I like the variety, and I think I’m learning a lot from others faith and traditions,” she said.
While Fritsch’s experience with the Newman Center has brought a lot to her overall college experience, she does not think that the general overall college experience is affected by the organization’s presence on campus.
“I think that they see us as the Catholics, kind of off in our own group,” she said. “I don’t think that most students outside the organization know much about it.”
Gerron is one example of Fritsch’s observations. She talks about her roommate who went to a Catholic high school, and was involved in the Newman Center for some time in her college career. Still, Gerron does not have a lot of knowledge about the organization.
“My roommate was always so excited to go to church on Wednesdays, and it made me happy to see her that way,” said Gerron. “But we just never talked about it. It’s totally a matter of time. If you have beliefs and you want to make time for them, you will.”
In her leadership role for the Newman Center next year, Fritsch hopes to not only make time for her faith, but give her time to an group she loves.
“I want a chance to give back to this organization that has given so much to me, and am thrilled that I get the chance to be a part of bringing that gift of faith that means so much to me to other students.”