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Mass forges friendships, community

Amanda Michaels | Friday, February 27, 2004

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series exploring Mass at Notre Dame.

Father Paul Doyle likes milkshakes. He’s so fond of them, in fact, that when he became rector of Dillon Hall in 1997, he bought a one-beater commercial “drink mixer” and began serving milkshakes to students who attended Father Mike Baxter’s Thursday night mass in Dillon Chapel. Six years later, he’s serving up 13 gallons of milk and ice cream to crowds that sometimes grow to 190 strong – almost unheard of for a weeknight liturgy.

Dillon’s famous “Milkshake Mass” is just one of many stories in the long tradition that surrounds Notre Dame’s unique dorm-worship system.

While priests-in-residence at other Catholic institutions, such as Boston College and Georgetown, occasionally hold Masses in their rooms, the concept of having an active chapel in each individual residence hall is distinctively Notre Dame’s.

“Dorm Masses are a very special Notre Dame phenomenon,” said Father Richard Warner, director of campus ministry and rector of Fisher Hall. “To build a space for worship into every residence hall is a strong statement about the nature of our community of faith.”

Sixty-eight Masses are celebrated each week in the dorms alone – more during football season – with an average of five per week in the male residence halls and two in the female residence halls. The disparity is mainly due to the fact that men’s dorms have up to three or four priests-in-residence, while only four women’s dorms are set up as such, Warner said.

Voicing a sentiment common across campus, McGlinn rector Beth Maureen Skinner said having weekly liturgies in every residence hall strengthens the bonds within that small community.

“The fact that we have Mass in the dorm is a value that makes this living situation different than just sharing a dorm space,” Skinner said. “That people pray together – that Mass can be a part of the total dorm experience – adds an element that is intangible and sacred. If Mass weren’t offered in the dorm, it would change its atmosphere completely.”

Father George Rozum, Alumni rector, agreed, adding that the Masses are essential to the preservation of the unique Notre Dame experience.

“Without dorm Masses, we wouldn’t have a spirit of Christian fellowship. We wouldn’t have Christian morals brought to our attention,” Rozum said. “The Basilica only holds a thousand or so people, so where would everyone go? If we didn’t have Masses in the dorms, we might as well be Northwestern.”

Despite the enthusiasm for the hall worship and the efforts of individual dorms to encourage participation – like Dillon and Carroll’s milkshake Masses, and St. Edward’s Spanish Mass – attendance at some weeknight liturgies can drop below the double digits.

Rozum defended the daily Masses, despite small numbers.

“What does it matter if we have, at most, a dozen or so? We can still pray,” he said. “You have got to pray every day if you’re going to be a Christian.”

Agreeing with Rozum, Skinner also said that even though only 25 to 40 percent of the girls in McGlinn go to the hall’s Mass, a large number find their way to one of the liturgies on campus.

“One hundred percent participation is unrealistic,” she said. “Many of our girls are in one of the choirs and participate in the Mass in the Basilica, or some don’t want to go to Mass at 10 at night because it’s their best study time, so they find a different place to go.”

Basilica rector Father Peter Rocca supported the presence of dorm Masses, saying that while the Basilica plays a central role in the community, worship within the residence halls fills a different yet equally essential place in students’ lives.

“I believe students should go wherever they believe that their faith will be best nourished,” Rocca said. “The more informal style of liturgy in the dorms, obviously, is quite different from the more formal Basilica setting. Also, the music can be quite different between what you hear in the Basilica and in a dorm.”

Many students also praise the residence hall Masses, especially the accessibility and variety of options they provide.

“It’s convenient, and everyone from my dorm goes,” Knott freshman Chris Rainville said. “And if I miss my dorm’s Mass, there’s usually another one I can make it to.”

Badin senior Alice Bartek cited the intimacy of the dorm chapels and the sense of community they inspire.

“When you go to the Basilica for Mass, you get all dressed up and the choir sings and it’s just a huge deal,” she said. “In dorm Masses, you can get on a personal, intimate level with those around you and with God.

Though each dorm is autonomous in deciding when and how they celebrate Mass – milkshakes or no – all 27 together form a unique network of faith within the Notre Dame community.