A perfect time for a proposal: Newman grads find love

May 16, 2024
Suffield kneels down during his proposal to Umbarger in St. John's Chapel following the Baccalaureate Mass May 9.
Suffield kneels down during his proposal to Umbarger in St. John's Chapel following the Baccalaureate Mass May 9.

For two recent Newman University graduates, St. John’s Chapel will always play a special role in their college love story.

Not only was it a frequented place of prayer for the student couple John Suffield and Hadassah Umbarger but it was also where Suffield popped the question following Baccalaureate Mass on May 9.

“I’ve actually had this plan for six months and I knew I wanted to ask Hadassah to marry me in St. John’s Chapel,” Suffield said. “I wanted to be in that exact same spot in front of the altar, in the place where we both shared so many experiences.”

Video: John Suffield and Hadassah Umbarger engagement story

Suffield even asked for a blessing from his future father-in-law, Associate Professor of Theology Matthew Umbarger.

“I gave him a vintage restored, 1950s Dublin Irish churchwarden pipe with a long stem and we smoked it together,” Suffield said. “He said it’s the best pipe he ever smoked and it was the best gift he ever got.”

After handing over the pipe, Suffield explained his ulterior motive for the gift. He fumbled with his words at first, then candidly admitted: “I’ve never done this before, I don’t know what I’m doing.” To which Professor Umbarger responded, “Yes, you can marry my daughter.”

Umbarger wasn’t expecting a post-Mass proposal “at all.” She did, however, have an idea that the proposal was coming soon.

Moments before the proposal, Umbarger and Suffield kneel down before the altar in St. John’s Chapel.

The pair met while on a Catholic retreat with Campus Ministry at Newman. They prayed in Eucharistic Adoration, attended countless Masses together in St. John’s Chapel and faith has been a constant cornerstone of the couple’s relationship.

Umbarger said it all made sense when Suffield pulled the ring out of his pocket in the same spiritual setting.

“It was really sweet,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it today, but I appreciated that he did it in the chapel and right after Mass is a really sweet way to follow it up.”

A love written in the stars

For both Suffield and Umbarger, there was a decent chance neither would have ended up at Newman University at all. Instead, the stars aligned seemingly perfectly.

Suffield started as a bowler, then entered seminary his sophomore year through St. Joseph’s House of Formation, although he later discerned a vocation in married life. On the other hand, Umbarger has homeschooled her entire life and wasn’t certain she wanted to attend college at all.

She said, “I promised my mom I would give it a try for at least one semester and then I just totally fell in love with it. I’m so glad that she made me try because I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Suffield added, “Newman has been such an influential part in my life, and if I had a choice to go back and do it over, I would do it a hundred times over.”

Suffield and Umbarger each won an academic award during the Academic Awards Convocation in April.
Suffield and Umbarger each won an academic award during the Academic Awards Convocation in April.

Several shared bonds

As well as their faith, Umbarger and Suffield bonded over their love and appreciation for art, theater and writing. Suffield was an art and theater double major while Umbarger was an English major with an art minor.

“I’ve always been inclined to be more on the creative side and make things and ingest art in different forms,” Umbarger said. “Being an English major and art minor allowed me to do that in a more formal setting and to encounter other people who also wanted to do those things and who knew way more about them than I did.”

Likewise, Suffield received reinforcement from his educational experiences just how important art, theater, poetry and literature are in one’s worldview.

“If you do not pursue art and love, romance, poetry, all these beautiful things, you’re going to be missing out on life,” he said.

Umbarger and Suffield leave St. John's Chapel with smiles after their proposal.
Umbarger and Suffield leave St. John’s Chapel with smiles after their proposal.

What’s next for the happy couple?

Suffield, who graduated in May, will continue to pray and look for jobs. Umbarger, a December graduate, will continue her work as the administrative assistant for the arts and humanities at Newman University.

The new Newman graduates are excited to begin their future as a soon-to-be-married couple.

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Newman University is a Catholic university named for St. John Henry Newman and founded by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ with the purpose of empowering graduates to transform society.