At the society’s inaugural general meeting, members of a student executive team − Baden Sinclair, Caprice Skinner, Hannah Williams and Ailis Macpherson − were elected to the roles of president, vice president, secretary and treasurer respectively. Michael Szmynec, a lay Catholic chaplain employed by the diocese at the university, assisted the students in creating the society.
Hannah enjoys being part of the Catholic Society as it “creates a community where I’m with like-minded young people. To identify in this day and age as Catholic is almost counter-cultural, so to have a network of other people who have an understanding of faith allows us to support each other through this journey. It’s a welcoming environment that fosters friendship and empathy with the challenges of life as a student.”
“One of the most rewarding things,” Michael said, “is seeing the large proportion of international students coming into the society. They come to us because Catholicism is a big part of their lives, and because they’re searching for people to connect with, so when they can come and feel welcomed by us, we get to witness firsthand what it means to be a universal church. It is a standard of hospitality that we hope to extend to all students of the university.”
Each week during semesters, the Catholic Society gathers for a group discussion and dinner. The topics are driven by members and have included discussions on sacraments, the saints, scripture − and how these have impacted on the lives of those in the group.
The Catholic Society also hosts a variety of social events. Past activities have included dinners in the city, birthday celebrations and beach picnics. There are plans to hold an annual weekend retreat, and to attend the University of New South Wales Catholic Society Harbour Cruise and the University of Sydney’s Catholic Society Ball.
In conjunction with the Maitland-Newcastle Diocesan Council for Ministry for Young People, the UoN Catholic Society hopes to gather a group of students to attend the Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF) in Sydney in December. The society welcomes students who are Catholic or those wishing to explore Catholicism, regardless of where they are on their faith journeys. Michael and Hannah describe the Catholic Society as an open forum to ask lots of questions in a supportive, comfortable environment where students look for answers together.