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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

SMC ministry welcomes new campus ministry priest

Four months ago, Fr. Stephen Newton fell 20 feet off a ladder, breaking his back and neck. Newton said harrowing experiences such as this remind him to value life's unpredictability and embrace its challenges, an outlook he will carry with him in his new role as the Saint Mary's Campus Ministry priest.

"There are no straight lines in my life," Newton said. "Everything is kind of jagged. I've been through a number of things that brought me to the brink of hopelessness, and then, I broke through to hope."

Newton's path to becoming ordained was far from straight and narrow, he said. He said he struggled with an addiction to alcohol that forced him to resign temporarily from the seminary, leaving him homeless and poor.

Newton began to overcome his alcoholism when he found a dime on the ground one day, with which he was able to fund a pay phone call to an addiction center. He said seeking treatment strengthened his relationship with God and taught him the importance of remaining open to God's plans.

"Control is not success, but letting go is," Newton said. "Living a life based on spiritual principles is a lot better than living a life on self-will or pride."

Newton said his application for re-admission to the seminary was accepted, allowing him to approach his studies with a renewed sense of purpose.

"I used to thank God for recovery, but now I thank recovery for God," he said. "Coming through all of that helped me with my faith. You learn so much about how we are not the center of the universe."

Newton said he now accepts change as a natural part of life, for it fosters personal growth and encourages him to take risks that could lead to increased knowledge.

"We are always growing, and if we're not, we're not living," Newton said. "I might define what I believe now, but if you said 'Is that what you're going to believe in five years?' I'd say 'I don't know. It'll probably be along those lines, but it'll be deeper.'"

When Newton fell from the ladder recently, he suffered no cognitive or peripheral damage, shocking the doctors who treated him. After four months of rehabilitation, Newton said the lessons he learned from the accident remind him difficulties happen for a reason.

"I'm still healing," Newton said. "I didn't survive that broken neck and back and all that to just retire."

At Saint Mary's, Newton looks forward to dispelling misconceptions that may distance people from the Church and welcoming those who might feel unwelcome.

"Across the board, there are people who have felt alienated," Newton said. "Maybe their notion of church and the reality of what Jesus wanted it to be are at odds and can be reconciled."

Newton said his own path, while not orthodox, ultimately made him a better priest.

"[My experience] really renewed my faith and brought me to a different place with it than I otherwise would have been," he said. "I might have been a nice-guy priest, but I don't think there would have been much empathy or compassion or true openness to the grace of God."