WASHINGTON (CNS) — Officials at the University of Notre Dame say a center the Indiana university will establish at a Catholic church in Ireland will offer a haven for those seeking to reignite their faith, a debating ground for those who have questions and a magnet for non-Catholics who want to learn about the faith.
“We want this center to be a serious center for the discussion of … a whole range of issues, like morality and science, religion and society, all informed by the richness of Catholic tradition,” Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, told Catholic News Service in a phone interview.
He spoke to CNS about a June 20 announcement from the university that it has agreed to be the steward of Newman University Church in Dublin and establish the Notre Dame-Newman Center for Faith and Reason. The church was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman in the city’s center and opened in 1856.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin had reached out to Father Jenkins and asked that the university collaborate with his efforts to revitalize the Catholic community in Dublin, starting with the center.
With Father Jenkins, Charles Lamphier, the director of church affairs at Notre Dame, hopes the center will be a hub of lively liturgy and music.
“We are trying to follow Pope Benedict XVI,” said Lamphier. “We want to, as he said, ‘re-propose the Gospel to people who have already heard it.’ We need to re-propose the Gospel in a way that’s compelling to young people.”
Two faculty members at the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross Father William Dailey and Steve Warner, have been named by Father Jenkins to be director and associate director of the center, respectively.
Father Dailey is a young priest and a lecturer who clerked for a federal appeals court judge and later practiced law in Washington before going to the University of Notre Dame in 2010 to teach at the law school. Additionally, he has worked with the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, which combines undergraduate mentoring, research projects and outreach through conferences and engagement of the media.
“I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to put the faith in a light that made it plausible to people with excellent secular educations which are often skeptical of the claims of religion,” Father Dailey told CNS in an email. “These are things I myself have struggled with since being an undergraduate philosophy major — so I try to think of the task of evangelization in a secular age sympathetically.”
As director of the center in Ireland, Father Dailey will celebrate the sacraments, preach and program lectures and other events.
“We hope to exemplify what Pope St. John Paul II noted in ‘Fides et Ratio,’ that ‘faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth,'” said Father Dailey, quoting from the pope’s 1998 encyclical.
“We envision lectures, book talks, concerts and fellowship designed to spur conversations ranging over the whole of life targeted especially to help educated and professional people to integrate faith and reason along life’s many dimensions — professional, personal, intellectual, aesthetic,” the priest added.
With a lecture series by religious as well as secular figures in Dublin, the center promises to become a place of practicing what is preached. The programs introduced at the center will be focused on lectures with “good scholars and pastors,” who can show the students and other attendees how their faith affected their lives, and how to live their faith instead of simply learning about it.
“We want to … get the church out of the sacristy, and go to where the young people are,” said Lamphier.
Father Jenkins hopes the center will become a place that is “particularly attractive to younger professionals,” and will “give them a place where their faith can be nourished.”
Father Jenkins also explained his hope that non-Catholics would participate in the programs at the center as well, and that the center would “reach out to those people and … the culture at large … (who are) searching for answers to important questions.” He expects that the center will “offer a certain perspective, and be a place where Catholic tradition is discussed.”
Father Jenkins explained that the once-vibrant Catholic community of Ireland has fallen into spiritual disrepair.
“Ireland is facing challenges to the faith as they move into the 21st century,” he said. “The culture is historically Catholic, but not as devoted as in the past.” Father Jenkins said Archbishop Martin hopes that the foundation of this center will reinvigorate the faith in young people, especially.
“Notre Dame owes a great debt to Irish immigrants,” said Lamphier. “They’ve really made Notre Dame what it is.”
The university was originally founded by French Holy Cross priests but Irish Catholics quickly became the majority of the students. Lamphier considers the opportunity to give back to the Irish “a great blessing.”
The University of Notre Dame has been deeply involved with Ireland and its culture for decades, but has recently redoubled its efforts to connect with the Irish community.
“In recent years, we’ve emphasized internationality, both to send students over (to Ireland) to experience the world, but also to form alliances and partnerships with other universities,” said Father Jenkins. “Ireland is a natural with its rich culture and history.”
Notre Dame has a broad curriculum of Irish studies, including an extensive study-abroad program based in Ireland. The university often collaborates with universities and organizations, both to send students to Ireland, and also to bring Irish students to the Notre Dame campus. The result is a large cultural and religious exchange.
But the challenge of practicing the faith in daily life is not a challenge confined to the boundaries of Ireland or of Notre Dame’s campus.
“The challenge in Dublin is a challenge for us all,” said Father Jenkins. “It’s a challenge in the modern world: How do you get young people to address a faith that’s facing all of us? We want not to return to the past, but to answer deep questions … and provide nourishment for the human spirit.”
The center serves as a symbol of hope for the future of the Catholic faith as the church moves forward through the 21st century.
“We hope that the community and its activities will bring new life to the church in Ireland, but also serve as an example anywhere in the world that faith has struggled to meet the challenges of modernity and especially secularization,” said Father Dailey.