Faith-Based, Higher Education

St. John Paul II Newman Center

The St. John Paul II Newman Center is the latest in a nearly 130-year-long tradition of establishing Catholic ministries at non-Catholic universities around the world. For the Archdiocese of Omaha, the unique challenge was to create intelligently crafted spaces that support day-to-day student activities, a rectory for the priests, and an oratory to serve as the spiritual nexus.

Drawing inspiration from monastic programs, the design respects the traditions and rituals intrinsic to the Catholic faith without connection to a conventional vocabulary of construction or past architectural styles. The programs revolve around the unifying courtyard to endow the oratory and provide a place of contemplation and communal connection. Connected yet secluded, the site’s composition physically mirrors that of a traditional abbey, with residential and worship spaces arranged around a central cloister.

A primary liturgical axis and a secondary ceremonial axis refine programmatic relationships with theological intention. The primary axis, oriented east west, connects the library to the oratory, symbolizing the journey from the pursuit of academic knowledge to its transcendence as the exposition of faith. The library’s fireplace marks the beginning of this journey while organizing the outdoor fire pit and the oratory. This continues in the narthex with the baptismal font, and in the sanctuary center aisle, altar and tabernacle.

In addition to the oratory, a refectory provides a multi-purpose space for dining and large group events. Two priests reside in the rectory, while staff occupy the meeting rooms. The dormitory accommodates up to 164 students with one, two and four-bedroom apartments, private chapels and the library supports academic learning with dedicated study space.

Photography by Paul Crosby & Tom Kessler
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