Newman Center offers virtual Mass, works to reintroduce in-person services

Students sit six feet apart at the Kent State Newman Center during a church service on Tuesday, Feb. 2. 

Hannah Mayer Reporter

Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series that looks at how local places of worship are handling the pandemic. Part twopart three and part four can be found here. 

Participating in community is a crucial part of most faiths, but what happens when the health department states that it’s no longer safe to do so? The Kent State Newman Center, where hundreds of Kent residents gather to practice Catholicism, was faced with this exact question. 

In March 2020 when COVID-19 made its way to Ohio, many people put different parts of their life on hold and for some this included practicing their religion. For the Newman Center this meant it almost completely shut down due to the pandemic and it was unsure of its next steps. 

“We were under the impression that, ‘Oh we have a couple weeks until spring break, we’ll see what the university says,’ but it just kept extending,” said Veronica Victoria, a campus ministry intern at the Newman Center. 

After the initial shock from the spring semester closing everything down, Victoria said since the summer is usually slow this gave leaders at the Newman Center the time to fully shift to a virtual-based community. 

The first steps of moving to a virtual platform included offering a livestreamed Mass. According to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, Mass is the primary form of worship for Catholics. Victoria said the livestream the Newman Center offered gave students the chance to view and participate in their Sunday obligation from the safety of their own home.

Along with Mass, the center offered a variety of events — including a Halloween party and Bible study groups — students could attend via Zoom. Through these events Liam Eitman, president of the Catholic Student Association, said he feels students were able to gain a sense of community through the Zoom calls. 

“It was not an easy process because we [Eitman and other parishioners] do stuff like going to Mass … which is so centered around an in-person community,” Eitman said. “How do you put that virtually? It was something we definitely struggled with.” 

Along with the Zoom calls and livestreamed Mass, the Newman Center has expanded which social media platforms it uses. During the live Mass services every week, the center uses the live feature on Instagram to say the rosary with any participants who are willing to join. 

The Newman Center has recently started taking steps to welcome more parishioners to in-person events. The center resumed their Tuesday night Mass starting with its first service on Feb. 2 at 8 p.m.

With staggered seating and minimal attendance, members of the center believe they have created a safe environment for parishioners. Along with Mass, Eitman said the center will allow parishioners to come to pray the rosary in person. This began Feb. 3 and will continue every week on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.

“With a lot of things, we’re just trying to come up with new ideas that we can do in small groups,” Eitman said. “We’re really trying to make it where more people can be involved in events.” 

According to Eitman and Victoria, the Newman Center is attempting to maintain a virtual aspect while reintroducing an in-person aspect. The different layers provide options for parishioners so the parishioners are able to be within the community in a way that makes them feel most safe. 

“We hit this point where nobody was coming to stuff anymore; we needed to somehow change what we were doing,” Eitman said.

Hannah Mayer covers religion. Contact her at [email protected]