St. Mary Student Parish and the Fr. Gabriel Richard Newman Center have roots deeply intertwined with those of the University of Michigan.

The Early Years of Catholicism at the University of Michigan

In 1817, a Catholic priest named Fr. Gabriel Richard co-founded the University of Michigan with the Rev. John Monteith, a local Presbyterian Minister.

In 1889, Catholic students at the University of Michigan joined to form the Guild of Catholic Students. They named their guild after John Henry Cardinal Newman, author of The Idea of a University. The Newman Catholic Student Association still exists at U of M, making it the third-oldest university society of Catholic students in the United States.

In 1919, a Catholic chapel was established in Morris Hall, serving more than Catholic students. From that growing student community and the nearby parish of St. Thomas the Apostle, came the initiative to build the Chapel of St. Mary, the Immaculate Conception. Church leaders laid the cornerstone in 1924. At the time of the chapel dedication, an estimated 800 Catholic students attended the University.

As Catholic students sought ways to balance their Catholic identity, educational growth, and social activities at the U of M, they established the Graduate Study Club in 1937 and the Newman Club in 1938. The club grew from an initial 250 students to more than 500 by 1939.

The cornerstone of the existing Fr. Gabriel Richard Newman Center was laid on October 25, 1952, and the Center was dedicated on November 22, 1953. The Newman Center was designed to provide facilities for classes and conferences, a reference library, and space for recreation and social activities. Today, the Newman Center holds parish staff offices, a study lounge, the parish library, kitchen facilities for events, classrooms and meeting space for student activities.

Through the next two decades, St. Mary Student Chapel and the Fr. Gabriel Richard Newman Center remained a place where students could gather for study, social events, and prayer. As the student community became increasingly aware of social justice issues, the Newman Center also became a place where students were encouraged to actively work for peace and justice.

New Name, New Era

In the early 1970s, to reflect the involvement and support from non-student members of the community, St. Mary Student Chapel changed its name to St. Mary Student Parish. Today, as a parish, we remain dedicated to providing opportunities for students, young adults, families, and residents of all ages.

St. Mary Student Parish honors this heritage through the Fr. Gabriel Richard Newman Center, and through worship, programs and events that help students achieve their potential as tomorrow’s Catholic leaders. In the courtyard behind the church we honor Fr. Gabriel Richard’s dedication to education by displaying a bell from one of the many schools he founded.

Each year, we send our graduates out to Catholic parishes across the country, praying that they will continue to live a vibrant faith, inspiring others through their involvement as witnesses and teachers of the faith, as well as vocal advocates for peace and justice in our world.

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