In the late 1800s, a group of Catholic students attending the University of California at Berkeley sought to fulfill their lives with more than academia offered. They realized a desire to establish a society that would be for the social, intellectual and religious benefit of its members. In 1898, this group met three times to organize a club, but there were disagreements and the project was temporarily abandoned. On December 8th, 1899, Newman Club was established. The club was named after the English Cardinal John Henry Newman, who had achieved great prominence in the Catholic life of the 19th century
In the early years there was no chapel or meeting place. Newman Club members attended Mass at churches in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and other communities. Meetings were held in members’ homes and at various halls. Social activities included dinners, teas, musicales, receptions and lectures. Women met twice a month for tea and men held a smoker twice each year.
The new club quickly received encouragement and cooperation of Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco and the pastor of the local parish, St. Joseph’s of Berkeley. Fr. John J. Cantwell, then a young curate at St. Joseph’s and later the archbishop of Los Angeles, became the first priest-chaplain of the club. The founders of the club were motivated, in the words of an early history of Newman, “to organize a society which would be for the social, intellectual and spiritual benefit of its members and representative of the Catholic Church.” The new club held regular meetings, stimulating discussions and debates, elected officers, and began to grow in significance. The major event of the year was an annual celebration of communion followed by a breakfast.
In 1907, Archbishop Riordan appointed the first Paulist to be the full-time resident chaplain to the students at the university. Fr. Thomas Verner Moore became the first of many Paulists who would serve at Newman from that day until the present. At the same time the Archbishop purchased a house and lot on Ridge Rd. on the north side of campus which would become the location of Newman Hall until the present building on Dwight Way was completed in 1967. On the occasion of his silver jubilee, Archbishop Riordan received a gift of $40,000 from the people of the archdiocese which he in turn used for the construction of Newman Hall, employing the service of the esteemed architect, Bernard Maybeck. The building was spacious, holding a chapel for about 400, a large social space, offices, a residence for two Paulists, and a bowling alley in the basement. Newman was an important place for Catholic students nourishing their spiritual, educational and social needs.
The “old” Newman Hall served for years as the focal point for the life of Catholic students and faculty at the university until the 1960’s when plans were formulated for a new and larger building on the south side of campus. The new building was constructed with funds from the Diocese of Oakland and the contributions of many friends of Newman Hall. The architect for the new, modern building was Mario Ciampi of San Francisco. A jubilant gathering of religious and academic officials joined the Newman community for the dedication of the new building on May 13, 1967, and Newman entered into the modern phase of its long history. At the same time Newman became parish of the Holy Spirit which broadened the scope of its presence in the Berkeley community.
Over the years of its history, Newman has witnessed and been involved in the enormous social and religious developments of the 20th century. The history of Newman is, in miniature, a history of our time and of the Catholic Church in America. Almost none of the great movements which made the 20th century so unique failed to find its expression at Newman Hall.
Newman quickly began to develop its own set of traditions. One tradition which still characterizes the Newman community began in those very early days-the conviction that the faith we profess has an important impact on the way we choose to live in this world. From the beginning there was an eagerness to apply Christian faith to the social and economic problems of the time. The brochure of programs for 1908 shows lectures and discussions on a variety of contemporary ethical problems, on methods of social reform, on the criminal justice system and on ethical standards in public life.
The early tradition of social awareness and involvement remained alive at Newman through the turbulent 60’s and 70’s with Newman’s involvement with the beginnings of the Catholic Interracial Council and the civil rights movement, as shown in Newman’s pride that one of its own, William Wagoner (UC graduate, 1961) was one of the early Freedom Riders in Mississippi. Newman issued an appeal for support when he was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for his efforts. During this period, Newman also had a cultural awareness program, sponsored third world events, supported the United Farm Workers Union, and offered sanctuary to Vietnam War resisters.
To be continued…