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ND students continue to flock to Mass

Michaels, Amanda | Thursday, February 26, 2004

Boston College has 36. Georgetown has 42. Notre Dame has 175. And this is one set of numbers has nothing to do with sports.

Rather, it lists the average number of Masses said each week at the nation’s top three Catholic universities, with Notre Dame holding the indisputable lead of twice as many as its rivals – combined.

This disparity has nothing to do with a competition to be the most ‘Catholic’ college, though lower percentages of Catholics at Boston College and Georgetown (self-identified as 70 percent and 50 percent, respectively) might be a factor. It is instead a testament to the strong faith community that is distinctly Notre Dame, uniquely woven from the chapels in each individual dorm and the symbolic Basilica that stands at its heart, to the Masses held everyday in Malloy Hall and the Mendoza College of Business.

“Though Mass has always held a strong position within the Notre Dame community, I think in recent years it has grown stronger. I think there are more undergraduate students who want to make deep faith and spirituality a part of their four-year experience here,” said Father Richard Warner, director of campus ministry.

Warner estimated that 75 to 80 percent of the Catholic student population attend Mass on a regular to occasional basis – compared to an estimated 40 percent at Boston College, according to associate campus minister of liturgy Ellen Modica.

The strong desire to participate in religious services evident in the undergraduates carries on beyond a student’s time on campus, Warner said. Citing a UCLA study of students from 25 Catholic educational insititutions 10 years after graduation, he said that 77 percent of Notre Dame graduates from the class of 1992 continue to go to Mass on a regular basis one decade later. The average of the other 24 institutions was 22 percent.

According to the annual American Council on Education survey of first-year students, 41 percent of Notre Dame freshmen said that religion was an important factor in their choice of school.

“I had to decide between University of Arizona and here, and one of main reasons I chose Notre Dame is that I really wanted to be in a community where we did have Masses every day. I love it here, being able to walk downstairs and go to Mass,” said Katie McGuckin, a freshman who lives in Lewis.

The estimated participation percentage can be called into question, however, as many freshmen also attested to going to Mass less than they did when they were at home, if they attend mass at all.

“I go to Mass about once every two weeks … which is less than I go when I’m at home, because my parents aren’t there telling me to go, and after Saturday night, sometimes I sleep in a little late,” said Fisher freshman Mike Barrett.

Stanford freshman Eamon Murphy attributed his lower attendance at Mass to the personal freedom college provides.

“I just don’t feel compelled to go to Mass anymore,” Murphy said. “It seems like now it’s my choice, and I don’t feel like I need to go all that often.”

Moving off-campus brings the issue of participation into sharper focus, as students are placed in a position where religious services are far less convenient and accessible than they are in residence halls.

“When I lived on campus I went every week, so now I definitely go less, and while it has more to do with personal reasons, I guess one of the reasons is also that I don’t really know of any churches off campus, and I like going with other people my age,” said off-campus senior Elizabeth Asher.

Asher also explained that those seniors who went to Mass regularly while underclassmen still go every week, while those who went every once in a while have almost stopped going.

Paula Giver, parish manager at the Little Flower Catholic Church, said that students are in the minority at Masses, despite the fact that the church is situated close to the College Park Apartment complex. She added, however, that there are some students who make it to morning Mass.

Though some students choose not to attend, it cannot be debated that the celebration of Mass is an integral part of the Notre Dame community. All 68 weekly dorm Masses put students in the pews. There are about 60 Holy Cross priests fully-engaged in ministry on campus and The Princeton Review ranks Notre Dame as the number five school in the country where “students pray on a regular basis.”