There are 57 chapels on the Notre Dame campus. Every hall of residence and most university buildings have space for Catholic worship, with mass being celebrated almost 160 times a week on the campus. As a Catholic university with a student population nearly 80% Catholicthis should surprise no one.
But what about the remaining 20% of students?
While approximately 80% of Notre Dame students identify as Catholic, Notre Dame not only accepts students from other religious traditions, but openly welcomes non-Catholic students, encouraging them to explore their own faith on campus. .
In some ways, Notre Dame has risen to the challenge of supporting non-Catholic students, providing support for events and holiday celebrations upon request. Additionally, the University has built two prayer halls on campus, providing Jewish and Muslim students with dedicated space for prayer. These rooms, located in the Jenkins Nanovic and Coleman-Morse rooms, provide students with a space to pray in a private and safe space.
Although campus ministry regularly supports non-Catholic organizations by sponsoring events and providing resources for club leaders, their communications with the student body rarely involve announcements of these services. Despite the campus ministry mission to “cultivate the faith of all Notre Dame students,” their weekly newsletter promoted the Jewish Club and its events only three times in 2021, and events for the Muslim Student Association (MSA of ND) twice.
Because of this lack of public support, many non-Catholic students are unaware of the denominational resources available to them on campus. Bella Niforatos, a senior and co-president of the Notre Dame Jewish Club, said she had only recently heard of the Jenkins Nanovic Halls Interfaith Prayer Hall.
“There is support and there are certain resources, but you have to look for them,” Niforatos said. “You won’t come across them by accident.
During the Hostage taking at a synagogue in Fort Worth on January 15Niforatos said she wanted to go somewhere other than her dorm to pray for the hostages’ safety – but she didn’t know where to go.
“I didn’t want to go to a Catholic space, but I ended up sitting by the lake,” Niforatos said. “It’s a good example of how people from other faith traditions here can access resources, but they don’t know where they are or how to get them.”
Abdulrahman Atassi, a first-year MSA member from ND, said he was able to access halal food in the dining hall with relative ease, but would not have known. if a former student hadn’t told him about the option.
Atassi praised Campus Dining’s efforts to help it access halal meals, but said it wants the option to be offered more publicly, so students don’t have to find the resources on their own. .
“I feel like the only person who knows that,” he said. “The school is quite prepared to give students anything they ask for, but it’s not offered directly or openly.”
Campus Ministry page for interfaith resources bed“Regardless of the religious experience you bring here, Campus Ministry seeks to meet you where you are and help you grow here into the person God created for you.
But placing the onus on non-Catholic students to discover and access the resources available to them—when their Catholic peers receive clear and consistent guidance—doesn’t seem to “meet you where you are.” The University must take the initiative to support its non-Catholic students more proactively.
These students are just as much a part of the Notre Dame community as anyone else, and they deserve denominational resources tailored to them. Speaking on the matter, Blake Ziegler, co-president of the junior and Jewish club, described the University’s obligation to non-Catholic students as a “contractual relationship”.
(Editor’s note: Blake Ziegler is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer.)
“Our Lady offered me admission knowing that I am Jewish, because my application indicated that I was Jewish,” he said. “And at the time they offered me admission, they were the ones who made an agreement that I could participate in this space as who I am, as who I was presenting to the admissions committee, that is, as a Jew.And so far, in many ways, Notre Dame has simply not kept up its end of the bargain.
This lack of initiative on the part of the University contributes to the exclusionary perception of an “archetypal” Notre Dame student – a predominantly Catholic student. Countless practices on campus, even outside of religious life – professors opening classes with prayer, resident assistants in some dorms having to attend dorm Mass, large campus events such as the start or welcome weekends celebrated with Catholic services, with every class having a crucifix – point to the pervasive belief that Catholicism is the “default” at Notre Dame.
We are not asking Our Lady to divest herself of her Catholic identity or uproot her deep Catholic tradition. In fact, Ziegler said he appreciates the University’s commitment to Catholic values, especially when it comes to education.
“That’s part of the reason I chose Notre Dame, because I think a Catholic education is a good education,” he said. “Just because it’s an education rooted in a religion that isn’t mine doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from it, that I can’t find value in it. I think the emphasis on liberal arts in Catholic education is amazing, and I think the focus on faith has been extremely beneficial to my own faith and spiritual life.
Rather, we are asking the University to go beyond Notre Dame’s “default” student service in its denominational resource offerings. When asked what the University could do to help non-Catholic students get ahead, Niforatos and Ziegler both stressed the importance of building a stronger Jewish community on campus.
One way to build community, they both suggested, is to establish a chapter of Hillel International in Notre Dame. Hillel is a community-based educational organization dedicated to uniting Jewish students across the country. Chapters have already been created at other Catholic universities, such as Georgetown and Boston College.
Haleemah Ahmad, a graduate student and MSA ND board member, also spoke about the importance of creating more prayer rooms on campus so that Muslim students can pray more easily. Even though there are currently two, she said she often finds herself running to Jenkins Nanovic at the other end of campus between classes to pray, which ultimately makes her late to class.
“We understand that the school cannot align the class schedule with our prayer times, but at least there should be a prayer room, no matter how small, in every building where students have classes” , she said. “It doesn’t have to be a mosque; it can just be a prayer room that anyone of any faith can use.
Students placed equal emphasis on non-physical, non-monetary support. Even though Notre Dame cannot offer financial support to non-Catholic student organizations, the Ministry of University and Campus can still serve as a platform for the causes and issues of these students.
According to Niforatos, this kind of support can take many different forms: campus ministry promoting non-Catholic organizations and their events, leaders including anti-Semitism in their discussions of social issues, professors thinking twice before ask their students to bow in prayer before class.
Atassi also stressed the importance of raising awareness in the Muslim community on campus, saying Muslim students could practice their faith more publicly if others were informed.
“Theoretically [we] could just go out and pray, but it’s not always comfortable to pray in public because people aren’t aware of what’s going on,” he said. “When I walked into the grass to pray one day, a stranger asked me if I was okay because I was kneeling on the ground.”
While Atassi said increasing visibility is partly the responsibility of ND’s MSA, he also pointed out that they are still students, with classes and activities, and that the University should step up its awareness of Muslim traditions.
As a community, we are made stronger by sharing religions and encountering different worldviews, a strength that should be recognized and celebrated by creating accessible safe spaces and equitable resources for all faith traditions. After all, Catholic means universal.