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Feast day honors St. Francis

Catherine Owers | Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Notre Dame community will celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi today with a special mass, a movie showing, a blessing in the chapel of Breen-Phillips Hall and treats in the dining halls.

Duncan Hall rector Terry Fitzgibbons helped plan the days event to honor St. Francis, who is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Fitzgibbons said Heather Rakoczy Russell, associate vice-president for residential life, knew of his interest in the environment and social justice, and asked him to be the representative for the Office of Student Affairs on the University’s Energy and Environmental Issues committee.

“The environment’s something that’s always been important to me, and at the same time my faith has been important to me,” he said. “I don’t view them as separate, the two go hand in hand. … This is God’s earth, and we’re supposed to take care of it.”

The daily 5:15 p.m. Mass in the Basilica will honor the feast day. Fr. Paul Coleman, director of the Center of Social Concerns, will preside at the Mass. Following the mass, the movie “Sun Come Up” will screen in the Jordan Hall of Science, Fitzgibbons said.

“It’s a story about … climate refugees,” Fitzgibbons said. “[The people in the film] basically have no place to live anymore, due to rising sea levels, and this [film] follows their story.”

Fitzgibbons then said moviegoers can attend a forum after the film to talk about the Catholic standpoint on the environment.

“We’re going to have a discussion, prayer [and] reflection afterwards,” Fitzgibbons said. “With sustainability, ecology, environment, climate stuff … sometimes it can tend to be statistic-oriented, number-oriented. The idea is to spiritualize the environment and ecology because stewardship of the earth is part of our Catholic teaching. It’s not just a hobby we tree-huggers are into, but a part of our Catholic faith.”

Fitzgibbons said he hopes the Mass, film and discussion lead to a deeper sense of awareness on environmental issues and how they can be integrated into faith.

“Once you make it part of our faith, it’s something we have to take seriously. … We hope students, faculty and staff will join us for this and also be part of the conversation,” he said. “We want to not just end with the film, but moving forward, what are ways we can make the issues of ecology, environment, sustainability [and] climate … more personal, more spiritual?”

Other meaningful questions can be addressed in the context of these events, Fitzgibbons said.

“What can we do practically for people, like the people in the film who are affected by climate change?” he said. “But also, what can we do on campus, what can we do in our faith lives, to make this more meaningful?”

The feast of St. Francis is the perfect time to bring these concerns to light, Fitzgibbons said.

“I think the feast of St. Francis is the natural way to tie [faith and the environment] in, with Mass, with the discussion of the film, to tie it in and make it very personal and spiritual,” he said.

Breen-Phillips Hall will also hold a prayer service Thursday in the dorm’s St. Francis of Assisi Chapel to celebrate the feast day of its namesake.

Breen-Phillips Hall’s liturgical commissioner Kate Lang said the prayer service will also focus on faith and the environment.

“One of the Masters of Divinity students [Collen Mayer] is going to give a small reflection on St. Francis and the environment,” Lang said. “One of the students who graduated in 2009 made a marble plaque of St. Francis, and during the prayer service we are going to bless it.”

The plaque will then be hung in Breen-Phillips Hall’s chapel.

The prayer service will continue the theme of St. Francis of Assisi, she said, with the opening song “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” which is based on the Prayer of St. Francis. “The Canticle of the Sun,” written by St. Francis, will also be read, Lang said.

In addition to the religious events commemorating the feast of St. Francis on campus, the dining halls will serve special nature-themed desserts at dinner.