Community mourns losses during transgender day of remembrance

Editor’s Note: This story contains mentions of violence.

Community members gathered around the Grotto on Monday evening for a prayer service in remembrance of those who lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence. PrismND and the Gender Relations Center (GRC) co-sponsored the vigil.

Molly Doerfler, PrismND president, led the memorial in mourning for the 32 known transgender people who lost their lives to acts of violence based on gender identity in 2022.

“These victims, like all of us, are loving partners, parents, family members, friends and community members,” Doerfler said. “They worked, went to school and attended houses of worship. They were real people who did not deserve to have their lives taken from them.”

According to Doerfler, 2022 has seen an uptick in legislation that does not uphold the dignity of transgender and gender non-conforming persons.

“In addition to praying for those who lost their lives, we pray for quality of life for the living and an end to discrimination,” she said.

Doerfler encouraged community members to participate by coming forward to light a named candle to place by the Grotto.

“Tonight, we will read the names of those who have died and light a candle in their memory to proclaim the importance of life, the value our people bring to society and the human dignity that all people have,” she said.

Thirty-two lost names and stories were then delivered aloud, starting with Regina Allen.

Brianna Chappell, Notre Dame student government director of LGBTQ+ initiatives, was one of eight student speakers sharing the epitaphs of those murdered in acts of anti-transgender violence.

Kathryn ‘Katie’ Newhouse was a 19-year-old Asian American neurodivergent transgender woman,” Chappell stated. “She was an Illinois native who had a passion for hiking, sightseeing and advocating for trans rights. On March 19, 2022, she was killed by her father in Georgia before he died by suicide using the same weapon.”

Raymond “Ray” Muscat, Chappell continued, was a 24-year-old grocery worker described by coworkers as a kind soul with a glowing smile.

“On May 8, 2022,” she said, “Muscat was shot and killed by his girlfriend in Independence Township, Michigan.”

After the last name, Kenyatta “Kesha” Webster, was called, prayer intentions were offered by sophomore Elijah Mustillo for the souls of all those murdered this year, and in years past, as a result of anti-transgender violence.

Following intentions, Mustillo invited those gathered to join in praying the Lord’s Prayer. Then, everyone shared a sign of peace.

Arlene Montevecchio, GRC director, closed out the memorial at the Grotto, thanking student leaders of both PrismND and the GRC.

Montevecchio directed students to “safe spaces” on campus —naming PrismND, the GRC, campus ministry and the University Counseling Center (UCC) as “folks on campus who want to provide a safe and inclusive community here.”

Before concluding, Montevecchio urged the audience to remember the victims names that were just read off and cautioned about the continual dangers of anti-transgender violence.

“Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victims’ transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, forcing them into unemployment, poverty or homelessness,” Montevecchio said. “These deaths also highlight the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. May all of us continue to work for justice, peace and love in our world, today and every day.”

Contact Peter Breen at


University files brief defending affirmative action in Supreme Court cases

Last week, the Supreme Court heard two concurrent cases on the state of affirmative action in college admissions, Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The petitioner in both cases — Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit that has taken issue with the race-conscious admission policies at UNC and Harvard — has argued that those policies constitute racial discrimination, especially against Asian-Americans.

The University of Notre Dame has taken a side in the case, signing onto an amicus brief alongside 56 other Catholic colleges and universities, supporting the institutions that have employed affirmative action in their admissions. The brief at one point quotes Notre Dame’s mission statement, which says that “the intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students.”

Asked for comment on why Notre Dame chose to weigh in on the case, University spokesman Dennis Brown said the school’s “position as stated in the brief speaks for itself.”

Jennifer Mason McAward ‘94, a Notre Dame law professor who serves as director of the Klau Institute for Civil and Human Rights, said there is some incentive for institutions like Notre Dame to defend race-conscious admissions. 

“I would think that, at a Catholic university that really does come from a faith tradition that values diversity and inclusivity, it is a core part of who we are to recognize that there are many parts of the body of Christ, and we want to have all of them represented at our school,” she said.

Richard Garnett, a law professor with concurrent appointment to the political science department, said that it’s unlikely that Notre Dame’s stated concerns on racial diversity and the religious freedom to consider race will be primary considerations for the court.

“Because Notre Dame is a private institution, its ability to consider race is not limited by the Constitution, only by its acceptance of federal funds. It is unlikely, in any event, that the justices will rely explicitly on considerations of institutional religious freedom or of Catholic mission,” he wrote in an email to The Observer.

Mason McAward explained that the legal history of these affirmative action cases goes back to 1978, when the Supreme Court decided a case called Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, when a white man seeking admission to medical school was rejected twice despite qualifications exceeding those of 16 minority students admitted in reserved seats. 

“The controlling opinion in that case ended up being Justice Lewis Powell’s solo opinion, which concluded that, although racial classifications are ‘inherently suspect,’ such consideration could be justified ‘under some circumstances,’ when necessary to the ‘goal of achieving a diverse student body,’” Garnett wrote. “The Court has never embraced the position that four justices took in Bakke, namely, that affirmative action in admissions is justified as a reparative or remedial measure.”

According to Mason McAward, Bakke was the law of the land through 2003, when the Supreme Court heard Grutter v. Bollinger.

Grutter “reaffirmed that diversity was an acceptable goal for universities to have and that race-conscious admissions were permissible,” Mason McAward said. “Race could be only one factor among many that schools could consider and so they had to be very careful in how they use race as one factor in a broader picture understanding of what diversity really means.”

Harvard has been specifically accused of discriminating against Asians in a variety of ways. The Trump administration had taken up the case of those students, siding with the petitioner’s argument. Under the Biden administration, the solicitor general’s office has reversed course, arguing in favor of the universities and affirmative action processes. Mason McAward says the broader questions around affirmative action expand these critiques.

“Those questions that are swirling about whether promoting racial diversity in some sense leads to racial discrimination in another sense is a concern that is underlying some of the justices approaches to the case. And there’s their assessment that really, maybe we should just take race out of the conversation altogether, because there’s just no good way to make sure that everybody has equal opportunity, that it’s a kind of zero-sum game,” she said, drawing from oral arguments.

Garnett identified two questions facing the court.

“The questions for the justices are, first, whether ‘diversity’ in these institutions is such an interest and, second, whether race-conscious admissions practices are necessary to accomplish it,” he wrote.

Ultimately, the justices are tasked with setting out a legal view of race and admissions, and whether to overrule Grutter. Mason McAward outlined a number of possibilities.

“One big question that the justices have to decide is whether the US Constitution ever allows the consideration of race in any context, but especially in the university admissions context. So the court might say that race just can never be considered at all. Or the court could say ‘we think that diversity is an excellent goal, but schools can’t use race as one of that one piece of that constellation.’ The court might say, we actually don’t think diversity is a concept that is concrete or constrained enough that would justify the use of race,” she said.

Garnett said that the court is dealing less with whether these practices are discriminatory, but rather if they’re justifiable in light of the government’s interest.

“In addition, in part because a majority of the current justices embrace the textualist and originalist methodologies, it seems clear that they will be asking whether the text of the federal civil-rights law, and the original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment, permit race-based government policies,” he wrote. “Both of these questions are, of course, challenging and much-debated.”

Garnett said that the impact of the ruling relies on how much the court chooses to address.

It “ will depend on, among other things, whether the justices address the constitutional question, the statutory question, or both. This is because only state-run institutions are constrained by the Fourteenth Amendment,” he wrote. “A Court ruling against race-based admissions would not prevent universities from aiming at diversity, in various forms, including but not limited to racial diversity.  Instead, it would require them to develop new strategies for achieving this goal.”

In the case that the consideration of race is totally prohibited in the admissions process, Mason McAward anticipates the path forward that institutions might take.

“Some state university systems have been precluded from using race for some time. I think the experience in California was that the number of racial minorities in the flagship California schools dropped precipitously when race conscious admissions were initially taken away. But what I think you’re going to see over time is that schools try and come up with other ways of creating a diverse student body,” she said.

Mason McAward said there are other ways to ensuring diversity with explicit racial considerations.

“So whether it’s a focus on socioeconomic diversity, whether it’s, as we see in Texas, a top 10% program where the top 10% of high school graduating classes are guaranteed admission to certain schools, I think that what you will see is a continuing commitment to diversity and an experimentation in other ways to get there,” she added.

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London Global Gateway acquires G.K. Chesterton Collection

The University of Notre Dame London Global Gateway Program hosted a ceremony Oct. 27 honoring the acquisition of the G.K. Chesterton Collection.

The collection, the only surviving individual connected to the Chesterton family circle and curated by Chesterton expert Aidan Mackey, contains an assemblage of writings and personal artifacts belonging to the esteemed English Catholic author. 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, born in London in 1874, was a renowned journalist, poet, artist and writer of fiction. His writings explored an array of topics, such as philosophy, theology, Catholic social teaching, literary criticism, history and more. Over the course of his lifetime, he wrote 80 books, several hundred poems, 200 short stories, 4,000 essays and several plays. He is also well-known for his mystery novels starring Catholic priest and detective Father Brown.

Upon Chesterton’s death in 1936, Chesterton’s possessions were left to his wife Frances and Dorothy Collins, his secretary who became like a daughter to him. Collins donated the material to the British Library, and this collection was later acquired by Mackey. 

Sometime after Chesterton’s death, Mackey said he got a call from the British Library stating they had Chesterton memorabilia in their possession, and they would like to give it to him.

“I’ve still not recovered from this great richness of stuff,” Mackey said in an interview with Notre Dame London Global Gateway. “I’ve known people who’ve been involved with the British Library, and they too share my astonishment that this should happen just as casually as that. I’m not even sure that I signed for anything.”

Since his initial acquisition of the collection, Mackey said it has grown bit by bit, over many decades. The collection, he said, is home to primarily Chesterton memorabilia, not just his writings. 

The collection includes items such as Collins’ typewriter, used by Collins as Chesterton would dictate his thoughts to her, Chesterton’s hat, all the volumes of “G.K. Weekly,” a publication run by Chesterton beginning in 1925 until his death in 1936, his toy theaters and his drawings. These include drawings from when he was as young as 6-years-old, to doodles in his books that cover entire pages.

“I’m sorry to criticize him, but he was a vandal with books,” Mackey said. “His cigars and his books at school and at home, wherever he was, covered page after page with extravagant doodles and so on, not just in the margins but right across the text.”

Other personal items that are part of the collection, Mackey said, include the academic gown made at Edinburgh University, Chesterton’s favorite pen, some dolls and puppets collected by his wife, and the things that were in his pockets and at his bedside table when he died. This includes his spectacles, his rosary and a paperback copy of one of Ernest Bramah’s “Kai Lung” novels. 

Chesterton, as Mackey said, “had the gift of appealing to people with widely different views,” and the University hopes the collection draws interest not only from Chesterton fans but from individuals who may resonate with one of the many aspects of his work.

“There is a universality in the appeal of this collection,” Ronan Doheny, the G.K. Chesterton archivist at London Global Gateway, said. “The collection will appeal to fans of Chesterton, to our students, to historians, to Catholics, to students of theater, and this collection just shows how extraordinary and universal of a man he was.”

The Notre Dame London Global Gateway’s acquisition of the Chesterton Collection holds great significance to the University because of Chesterton’s special connection to the school. In 1930, Chesterton was named a visiting professor at the University’s main campus and was granted an honorary degree.

David Fagerberg, professor of theology, said Chesterton gave 36 lectures in Washington Hall during his 6-week stint as a professor, and about 500 students attended each lecture. Before his departure, Fagerberg said, Chesterton wrote a poem about Notre Dame entitled “The Arena” after attending the first football game in the new Notre Dame stadium against Navy. 


Notre Dame alumna begins new ministry at Saint Mary’s

Nicole Labadie, who became the new director of campus ministry at Saint Mary’s in October, hopes to find new ways to evangelize and accompany students on their faith journeys during their time at Saint Mary’s College She said the job combines her passions: the charisma of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the focus of an all women’s school and the work of campus ministry.

Labadie, originally from New Braunfels, Texas, studied social work and religious studies at St. Edward’s University in Texas before earning a master of divinity at Notre Dame. She first became involved in campus ministry at St. Edward’s, where she said she appreciated the mentorship she received on profound questions regarding her faith.

When she came to Notre Dame, Labadie was an assistant rector in Pasquerilla East Hall and she worked on liturgical and spiritual programming in the dorm.

“I really loved journeying and walking with women, so, I think in a lot of ways it’s cool that I’m back at Saint Mary’s now,” Labadie said.

Labadie entered her eighth year of campus ministry work when she took the job at Saint Mary’s. Previously, she was the director of campus ministry at University of St. Thomas in Texas and was a campus minister at the Rice University Catholic Student Center. 

She is also married to a Notre Dame graduate and has two sons, who are three years and three months old. Labadie said the job at Saint Mary’s was attractive partly because South Bend was where they wanted to raise their family.

Labadie, who began her term Oct. 17, described adjusting to her new job as “a little bit like trying to drink water from a fire hose,” but has enjoyed getting to know students and learning about their needs since they arrived back on campus from fall break.

“Saint Mary’s has been so welcoming so far,” she said. “I’ve heard a variety of things from the students, like building on the strong community of Saint Mary’s and continuing on the legacy of the sisters, especially since religious communities are declining in numbers and the pandemic really affected the ability for students to be able to connect with the sisters of Holy Cross.”

As director of campus ministry at Saint Mary’s, Labadie hopes to foster productive dialogue on campus for students to grow in their faith. The dialogue, she said, could take shape in the form of small group communities, something which she said students have expressed to her over the past week. 

“We know that God is a mystery, and any way that we want to put limits on that, God is ultimately beyond those,” Labadie said. “It’s one of my great joys in campus ministry is to get to walk with students and accompany them as they sort of ask those big questions.”

Her purpose as the new director of campus ministry, she said, is centered around providing students hope surrounding faith and she is intent on listening to students to find out how best to do that.

“It’d be my desire that every student at Saint Mary’s knows how deeply they are loved by God,” Labadie said. “So whatever we can do to help bring that about, I’m open to hearing.”

Contact Liam at


Panel discusses theological interpretation, LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church

Monday night in DeBartolo Hall, PrismND hosted a panel titled “Theology and LGBTQ+ Inclusion.”

The panel featured Baumer Hall rector Fr. Robert Lisowski and Saint Mary’s College assistant professor of religious studies and theology Jessica Coblentz. The panel was followed by a question-and-answer session.

Lisowski opened the discussion by talking about his role in Baumer and his work ministering to the LGBTQ+ community. Lisowski said he became Baumer’s rector in 2020 and was ordained a priest in April 2021.

“During these past three years, it’s really been one of the greatest joys of my priesthood, of my ministry, to accompany our LGBTQ students,” Lisowski said. “I use this phrase of accompaniment because it is one dear to Pope Francis, who has made the reality of accompanying a variety of folks but particularly those who find themselves on the margins, to be the hallmark of his pontificate.”

Lisowski said when he thinks about the reality of pastoral accompaniment, he thinks about stories.

“So often in my ministry, I find myself honored as students begin to share their stories, when they let me learn from their various chapters in life and when they share the ups and downs, the joys and the struggles that brought them to this unique point in life,” he said.

Lisowski said he is honored when students share their hopes and dreams for the future. He said, as a priest, this is when he feels he is on “holy ground,” and that he seeks to make Baumer a welcoming and inclusive community.

“One of my favorite philosophers is a 20th-century French and Christian existentialist named Gabriel Marcel, and he often writes and speaks about how we so often are tempted to see everything, even persons, not as mysteries to be embraced, but as problems to be solved,” Lisowski said. “I think that’s one of the key issues in our world, in our church, today.”

The exile, Lisowski said, represents a moving spiritual symbol and biblical narrative for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We all know the important role that exile played in biblical texts, particularly the Babylonian exile, in which the chosen people find themselves far from home,” he said. “They find themselves questioning their previous understanding of God, find themselves wondering if God had abandoned them, if maybe God’s plan did not apply to them any longer.”

He said this reality — a spiritual narrative of searching for a home and belonging and wondering where God is to be found — is one the LGBTQ+ community knows well.

Lisowski said one way he seeks to minister to LGBTQ+ students is by being intentional in using inclusive language in his liturgies.

“After speaking with some students, I started last year to pray explicitly during my Masses for an end to homophobia and transphobia, to pray for a unity in the body of Christ,” he said.

He said when praying or leading prayers, people should speak of “inviting sisters and brothers and siblings in the Lord Jesus” to gather at one table where everyone has a seat.

Saint Mary’s College assistant professor of religious studies and theology Dr. Jessica Coblentz speaks at the “Theology and LGBTQ+ Inclusion” panel at DeBartolo Hall on Monday, Oct. 24.

After Lisowski concluded with a short prayer, it was Coblentz’ turn to speak.

Coblentz — who teaches courses in feminist and queer theology — said some LGBTQ+ Catholics feel excluded by the church’s teachings on sexuality. She said it is important to remember that church teachings on sexuality and LGBTQ+ people are directly tied to its greater teachings on sex and gender.

“The church holds that sexual activity should be confined to heterosexual marriage,” she explained. “The church also teaches that sex in this context should be unitive and procreative.”

She said these teachings can cause LGBTQ+ Catholics to question how they can “be good in the eyes of God and the church when [their] very nature is inherently disordered.”

Coblentz added that her primary area of research is on Christianity and mental health. She said her research has exposed her to studies linking social and religious messages about LGBTQ+ persons to conditions like depression and suicidal ideation.

“Many LGBTQ+ Christians perceive that they are not really wanted for who they are by the church. They perceive that they do not truly belong in God’s eyes and in the church’s,” Coblentz said. “The exclusion experienced by LGBTQ+ Catholics is, therefore, not just about hurt feelings. It is, for many individuals, a matter of life and death. As such, any Catholic or Catholic institution that strives to be pro-life must contend with the role the church plays in LGBTQ+ exclusion.”

Coblentz said it’s important for Catholics to remember that, when it comes to moral issues, they are not called to unthinking submission to church teachings but rather to form their own opinions based on “rigorous and careful discernment.”

“We are called to study Church teaching, to seek wise spiritual counsel about it and, ultimately, to follow the well-informed conscience that results from this even in difficult moments when one’s conscience leads them to disagree with an official moral teaching,” Coblentz said. “With regard to sexual morality, this process is the responsibility of faithful Catholics and one we should engage in as we grapple with the realities of LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

Coblentz said some theologians debate whether church teaching on sexuality needs to be changed or reinterpreted. Some scholars, particularly those in the subset of queer theology, question whether inclusion should be the end goal of Christians who are concerned about the well-being of LGBTQ+ persons, Coblentz said.

“These theologians call for a more radical rethinking: Instead of inclusion, they call for revolution,” she said. “This revolutionary approach … asks not ‘How do we include LGBTQ+ Catholics in the church, but instead, ‘Can we begin to imagine a church where questions of inclusion are entirely irrelevant because our belonging is simply taken for granted?’”

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Saint Mary’s offers new religion course titled Queer Theology

During the 2021-22 academic year, professors Jessica Coblentz and Daniel Horan O.F.M proposed a new course to the Saint Mary’s College curriculum committee, entitled Queer Theology. The course Queer Theology, co-taught by Professors Coblentz and Horan, started its first half, Queer Theology I, this semester at Saint Mary’s, and will continue next semester with Queer Theology II. Coblentz and Horan spoke on the circumstances of its creation, emphasizing its intentionality to address a call for discussion within the Saint Mary’s community. 

“The unique thing about how this course came to be is that we were very intentional about being in conversation with students because the class was inspired by students’ desires to learn more about this,” Coblenz explained. “We were really intentional about asking them, ‘What do you want to study?’ ‘What are the questions that you have that aren’t being answered in other classes that you’re taking or in some of the extracurricular opportunities here at the College?”

To the same accord, Horan recalled his moment of recognition of a need for a course such as this.

“We had a campus event, and in the Q&A session, it became clear that students were very interested in perspectives of Christian theology that aligned with and arose from the experiences of those who identify as LGBTQ+,” Horan said. 

Horan further spoke on the attitude of the student body.

“There was a hunger, there was an interest, there was a desire to learn more about the work that’s being done around this topic,” Horan said. 

Coblentz, having taught a “Queer theology” course previous to her time at Saint Mary’s, expressed interest and determination toward the formation of the curriculum.

“We did our best, as experts in Christian theology, to sort of find opportunities to introduce students to ideas in academic theology that connect with their own organic interest,” Coblentz said.

She described some of what the course aims to cover as a whole.

“We’re exploring in the class how insights from Queer theory, sort of challenge and expand certain ideas in traditional Christian theology and also we’re looking at how ideas in Christian theology can challenge, expand and help reimagine different issues in Queer theory,” Coblenz explained.

As well as the content of the course, Horan shared another main element considered in the brainstorming phase, the importance of accessibility to the course. “A course like this had not been offered at Saint Mary’s or in the tri-campus community, at least to our knowledge, so we really had a chance to think from scratch, what would a course like this look like?” Horan continued. 

 “How could we make it a course that was accessible and available to the greatest sort of number of students who are interested in taking it, recognizing that students have very full plates,” he said. 

The structure of the course is unique in the aspect that each semester is worth one and a half credits. Aimed to accommodate those who have an interest in taking this class but may have a full schedule or minimal room, the course is offered on Wednesday evenings. It is a year-long course available to students to take one semester or the other or both in combination to get the equivalent of a regular course in credits.

“We wanted to do something a bit innovative even in the offering of the course, and that’s where the one and a half credit per semester kind of, part one part two structure came in,” Horan said. 

Horan discussed the importance this course plays within the Saint Mary’s and tri-campus communities.

“I think it is important because there is, first of all, an important area of this field of study that doesn’t or hasn’t traditionally, in the tri-campus area, received much attention in a formal academic sense. I think the second reason is that it’s important because these are pressing questions of our time, right?” Horan said. 

Horan continued and addressed the specific relevance the course plays within the setting of a Catholic college.

“So, at a Catholic college, our mission, our vision for education is rooted in that quest for deeper knowledge about the human person, about the world, about God, about what we see and what’s more than what we see. And so, in that regard, something like Queer theology fits in very comfortably and ideally.” Horan said. “The intersection of dialogue is a big part of what this course is about.”

Coblentz also dived into the conversations within the class that have been sparked since its start this semester.

“But I think what we’re exploring and Queer theology are some ways of bringing Christianity to bear on our lives that are often overlooked, that often aren’t introduced to students, and I think that weather students end up agreeing or disagreeing with the authors we read in class I think it’s often really productive and fruitful and exciting to reconsider whether faith has something to offer in this regard. Something to offer that maybe we haven’t thought about before,” Coblentz said. 

Her overall passion for this course and its contents stems from the meaning she hopes others will find in it.

“This dialogue where we’re challenging ourselves to grow in understanding to expand our horizons to rethink things that some of us have taken for granted, that’s what all theology classes on our campus aim to do,” Coblentz said. 

Contact Cora Haddad at