More than 260 people gathered in the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center on the Newman University campus Saturday, Feb. 6 for what was billed as a “transformational” event. The evening did not disappoint, as the program honored a beloved spiritual leader and longtime university friend and unveiled plans for new and updated campus facilities and the Facing Forward campaign.
After opening comments by The Most Rev. Carl A. Kemme, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, guests enjoyed dinner, and the gala started by honoring the Most Rev. Eugene J. Gerber, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Wichita. Former Newman University President Tarcisia Roths, ASC, shared her memories of working with Bishop Gerber and the important role he played during challenging times in the university's history.
President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., then officially announced that Newman University would be building and enhancing science and health science facilities with renovations to Eck Hall and the construction of the new state-of-the-art building to be named the Bishop Gerber Science Center.
“I think we touched people's hearts and minds," Carrocci said. "I was so moved by the overwhelming love, appreciation and gratitude for Bishop Gerber and how everyone [was] just awed over the Bishop Gerber Science Center. That was the most special part of the evening.”
In his remarks, Bishop Gerber thanked Carrocci and Roths.
“Noreen, nothing here would happen without the leadership that you provide and the spirit that you give here, and Sister Tarcisia, what you said is true but you left out the effort and all the guidance that you put into the enhancement and the growth of this university,” Gerber said.
Gerber also explained that for him there is a supernatural element to his involvement with the university over the years. He shared that in the mid-1970s while he was a priest studying in Rome, he visited the shrine of Adorers of the Blood of Christ foundress St. Maria De Mattias.
“While there I was zapped," Gerber said. “The gift of trust in Divine Providence was close to her (St. Maria De Mattias) heart, and I was given a portion of that gift… and that gift is what has helped me and helped Sister T in our ways and others. Newman University has had its share of near misses... but it is Divine Providence that has kept it alive."
It’s through Divine Providence the construction project and upgrades to Eck Hall will be funded by the $30 million Facing Forward campaign. About $24.5 million of the fundraising efforts will go to the building and renovations, and the rest will support student scholarships and university endowment.
Vice President for Advancement J.V. Johnston told the crowd that the campaign was within $3.1 million of meeting its goal for the new building and renovations to Eck Hall. After the Facing Forward campaign update, Monsignor Robert Hemberger delivered an inspiring message followed by a song performed by junior Joshua Baalmann.
“The goal is a little daunting, but it's doable, and it had to inspire people tonight," said Mike Ludlow, M.D. ’78. "Josh Baalmann sounded like Josh Groban is what I thought.”
“I think that Bishop Gerber has done so much for this school and this community and all the others that are here this evening, and if they don’t get more money, I’m going to figure out how to get it for them,” longtime university supporter Larry Fugate said.
“I was amazed by the event. It was very moving, and Bishop Gerber has done a lot for the university and for the Catholic Diocese, so it’s very fitting that the science center should be named after him,” Dana Fugate said.
“I think they should have no problem raising the last… $3.1 million,” Mike Brand said.
Many attendees echoed the idea that the new science center and improvements will have an impact not only on the university but also the entire community.
“[Newman University] has had a remarkable impact on this community, but this science center is going to change this community,” Board of Trustees member J.T. Klaus '87 said.
"I think people really bought into the fact that this isn't just about Newman University," said co-chair of the Facing Forward campaign Melissa Grelinger '82. "This is about our whole region, our community and that we need this (new science center) to better our community and provide for our community,”
“I think it’s important for Wichita and it’s important for Newman," said Rene Steven, Wichita business leader. "When I went to college, you want to be proud of where you go. And I think that's important for Newman so they continue to grow and be successful and keep bringing out medical students. Great people that will help society."
“I think Newman has proved that you can do a lot with less than optimal facilities, but there is no question that you can do a lot more with state-of-the-art facilities. I think it’s a long time coming and would be a great service to the whole community,” Monte Vines ’78 said.
About two dozen students were at the event volunteering as servers. After the program, several showed excitement as they viewed posters showing the new building and floor plans.
“Oh, it's going to be named the Bishop Gerber Science Center! That makes me so happy. He's been a big part of our family for so many years so I' glad. That makes me really happy,” first-year student Lexi Cochran said.
“I didn't know they were going to put all this stuff in there. I thought it was just going to be like Heimerman, but new,” she said.
“It's massive. I knew they were going to connect it with Eck and take over the teacher's parking lot, but this is amazing. I’m excited,” freshman Annie Dang said.
“This is cool,” pre-med major Christine Wolf said.