RooCatholic Connects Faith, College Life

Community, service and life are the pillars that raise the ‘Place to Belong.’


Jake Herron

The scene inside the historic romanesque revival St. Bernards Church, home of UA’s RooCatholic.

By Jake Herron, Online Editor

More than 450 student organizations strive to find a way to enrich and refine college life for students at The University of Akron. At RooCatholic, that ‘way’ seeks to enrich for a lifetime.

Jake Herron
The iconic twin bell towers of St. Bernard’s Church are a fixture of the Downtown Akron skyline. The historic church was built in 1905.

An affiliate of Newman Catholic Campus Ministry for than 80 years, RooCatholic is situated within the confines of the historic Saint Bernard Parish in Downtown Akron. The organization, which assumed its current name during a 2016 rebranding, identifies itself as an “instrument of the Holy Spirit, providing a joyful and faithful community for students at The University of Akron.”

“RooCatholic is geared toward providing faith and spiritual development for Catholic college students on a public college campus,” John Szarwark, Ministry Director for RooCatholic, said.

The UA Newman Center is one of seven on college campuses in the Diocese of Cleveland.

“Of the seven, I can truthfully say that the RooCatholic Newman program at Akron is the most vibrant and active,” Szarwark said.

St. Bernard pastor Rev. Christopher J. Zerucha, who affectionately refers to RooCatholic members as the ‘roo-sters’, also plays a leading role in the spiritual guidance of the ministry.

“There’s a lot in Pope John Paul II’s Faith and Reason about how reason helps us with faith,” Zerucha said. “Faith and Reason is the title of an encyclical, titled in Latin, Fides et Ratio.”


As ‘a place to belong,’ community is the cornerstone of RooCatholic. The student organization holds weekly small group meetings for men and women, bible study, praise and worship sessions and a large gathering on Wednesday evenings, where homestyle cooking is served and special faith-inspired activities are planned.

Jake Herron
A home-cooked taco dinner prepared by RooCatholic members awaits students at the St. Bernard Newman Center.

A leadership dream team is instrumental in staying consistent and upholding RooCatholic’s values of being the place to belong.

Jake Herron
Leadership team members Katie Allensworth (left), Helena Carlson (center) and president Kyle Monnot (right), lead in a moment of praise during a Wednesday RooCatholic meeting at the St. Bernard Newman Center.

“RooCatholic is a community that strives to bring people closer to the heart of Christ and be in relation with Him,” RooCatholic President Kyle Monnot said, “Our objective is to foster an environment that makes people proud of their Catholic faith and talk about it as it is real and truth.”

In conjunction with RooCatholic, St. Bernard’s holds a mass at 8 on Sunday evenings specifically geared toward college students. The mass features student participation and contemporary music.

“St. Bernard’s has always been supportive and cooperative with us,” Szarwark said.

The organization also hosts the annual “Collide” retreat, where members can enjoy the opportunity to step away from the hustle of college life for a weekend and engage in praise, soul-searching and bonding with fellow members and friends.

“RooCatholic is a family,” leadership team member Helena Carlson said.


RooCatholic’s reach extends far beyond the lives of ordinary college students. Through service and community outreach, the organization has benefited hundreds in need over the years.

The organization is heavily involved with St. Bernard’s hunger programs, which are among the largest in Summit County.

In the midst of managing busy schedules as college students, several members eagerly report to the church’s kitchen at 7 a.m. on Thursday to prepare sandwiches and other food items for the church’s “Bologna House,” a weekday walk-up service that provides bagged lunches for many homeless men and women in the city.

St. Bernard’s also hosts “Hot Meals,” a service that provides hot, nutritious dinners throughout the month to those in the community who have found themselves fallen on tough times.

On campus, the organization holds an annual Ash Wednesday mass in the Taber Student Union, emphasizing its presence at UA and welcoming all in the University community to attend.

In addition to serving in the greater Akron area, members of RooCatholic routinely embark on service trips across the region, taking on tasks such as rehabilitating homes, beautifying landscapes and stocking food pantries.

Because of RooCatholic, the quality of life has been improved in places from Detroit to New York City and everywhere in-between.


For some, the journey through college life and young adulthood can prove to be trying at times. Faith-based student organizations like RooCatholic stand as a beacon of serenity and revival, often being the catalyst for a student’s success. Along the way, hope is built, trends are initiated and lifelong friends are made.

The overall goal of RooCatholic is that its members graduate and leave being the best versions of themselves, having found their purpose in life and in the lives of others.

The organization fosters growth in its members in areas including love, spirituality, faith development, professional development and support of social justice issues.

Jake Herron
RooCatholic leadership team member Helena Carlson begins a Wednesday meeting at the St. Bernard Newman Center in Downtown Akron.

“We want to develop students in their faith life to be supportive in their own parishes,” Szarwark said.

Having served in Diocese of Cleveland in various capacities throughout his career, Szarwark is profoundly touched by seeing the transformation and spiritual growth of young lives during his tenure as ministry director of RooCatholic.

“It’s wonderful working here. I think of them all as ‘my kids;’ and I get to watch them grow up and let them go,” Szarwark said.

He can easily recount the success and happiness that previous generations of members have gone on to enjoy in their adult lives, many of whom remain in touch with their faithful home at St. Bernard’s.

“So far, 12 couples have met here,” Szarwark noted.

He’s still counting.

RooCatholic welcomes students of any year and major, meeting predominantly on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. in the St. Bernard Newman Center, located at 44 University Ave. in Downtown Akron.

To learn more about RooCatholic and its purpose, visit its website. The organization also offers weekly news and announcements sent via email. To sign up, click or tap here.