Spes Unica: A reflection on leading a retreat and a call to others

I’ve been missing from the pages of The Observer for a while, but I am back and refreshed after a great weekend Spes Unica retreat. As the 50th retreat in this biannual series, Spes Unica retreats are a hidden gem among the many retreats that happen around the tri-campus community. Though I was a leader this time around, this retreat was still one I actively participated in as if I was living it out. For context, this was my first official Spes Unica retreat, but my third spiritual retreat at Holy Cross. The first was at Sophomore Anchor Day, an overnight retreat that served as a spiritual check-in for those in their second year of Holy Cross. After this, I did not go on any Spes Unica retreats, but I did attend our Marian Pilgrimage. During this pilgrimage, we traveled around from Indiana to travel to Illinois and Wisconsin, visiting holy sites centered around Mary. Highlights include going to Marytown in Libertyville, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. This was a multiple-day trip that introduced Mary to several students in new and exciting ways. But, these were not Spes Unica retreats, also known as SPES. 

SPES is a retreat open to the students of the tri-campus, Catholic or non-Catholic, geared to help students deepen their spirituality and relationship with God. At SPES, and in my own leadership, it is to meet God where you are and search for Him in your own way. Modeled after a testimony/talk and small group reflection framework, this series of retreats is a big deal to the Campus Ministry team here at Holy Cross. SPES is led by students that have been to at least one previous and want to continue going to SPES in a new way. I took the opportunity to lead SPES 50 because I have wanted to grow in my faith life. I find that many people around me don’t realize that I am as faithful as I am. This is a complicated dynamic to be a part of because of the context of my relationship with Christ, His Church and me. In my talk, and in my everyday life, I let people know that I am Catholic and proudly queer. I won’t divulge into the theology or catechesis on Catholics and homosexuality, but I will explain that it isn’t easy. I took it upon myself to take this retreat as a time to work on my relationship with Christ as a way that could explore the relationship I already have with Him. 

As many of you know, if you’ve followed my columns, I have put time into thinking about ACE at Notre Dame. And after further consideration of the possibility of my role in the lives of future catholic youth, I knew I needed to continue to fortify my relationship with God. Part of this is to do my own work. SPES values personal prayer and reflection; highlighting adoration and contemplation as moments to work on your relationships with God. This layer is what I was looking forward to as a retreatant. On the flip side, it took me by surprise how much I enjoyed talking about my faith and helping others through theirs as a leader. My talk was centered around the changing nature of one’s relationship with Christ and the fundamental importance of knowing your status as a Child of God. These are the two key facets of my own faith. As a future catholic school educator, it is important to me that one day my students grow to learn the depths of love God has for them. As a retreat leader, it was important for me to make sure my retreatants knew that same message, that God so deeply loves them. This is because of the fact that it is a struggle I’ve had to deal with throughout my life.

So what? If you have read this far into my article, thank you. And I’ll get to the point I am trying to make soon enough. What I want you, readers of these articles, to know is that there is a call to join in community with each other. I know that not everyone is Catholic or religious at all, but everyone needs someone. And I think that a weekend away from the books and from the world showed me that I needed it sooner than I expected. I found that I wanted to be more authentically connected to people. As the photographer of the weekend, I had my phone out a couple of times to take pictures or to check the team’s GroupMe for updates on the plan for the weekend. But it was refreshing to sit in conversation and get to know one another in deeper relationships. Part of this column is to be authentically me and broadcast what the experience of a Holy Cross College student is like to the greater tri-campus community, but part of me also wants to invite you to get to know one another in ways that don’t involve a cell phone. So, find a retreat near you, go phoneless for a couple hours and enjoy the changing landscape we’re experiencing right now. Holy Cross has the SPES retreats once a semester and is always open to the tri-campus; my email is listed if you are interested in attending it. There is so much to do without time on earth, make it count. 

Gabriel B. Ibarra is a Chicago native currently attending Holy Cross College, majoring in visual arts on the studio track with a minor in elementary education. If not crying to any of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, you can find them somewhere in the tri-campus causing chaos with laughs, pointed jokes and one of many emotional support water bottles in hand, or leading Holy Cross College’s First Generation Club as the vice-president. Learning to write for a newspaper is harder than expected, so they can be contacted on Twitter @gbenito11 or via email at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


Rain on the just and unjust

The Sermon on the Mount is full of startling claims, many of which, for various reasons, we fail to appreciate.  One such statement is this: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV). Jesus uses these words to show how much God loves His enemies, and it serves as a glorious example that Christians are called to emulate.

But we are thoroughly unimpressed with this example. The fact that God keeps sinners and unbelievers alive and gives them light and food seems more like fulfilling an obligation than grace. Many, implicitly or not, believe that God is required to give everyone x, y and z, and, if He doesn’t, He is either mean, uncaring or inept. And not only that, but if He doesn’t fulfill my wishes, if He doesn’t give me a promotion, a spouse, happiness or good grades, then, well, maybe I just won’t worship Him today. This verse, and the Bible as a whole, challenges such wrongheaded thinking.

Let us begin with this question: What does God owe humanity? Nothing. This is hard to accept, but that is what Matthew 5:45 is saying. But how can God withhold such essential things from people? The underlying assumption is that we’re generally good people, and thus deserve God’s gifts, but this is wrong.  There are no good people.  (While people, as in Matthew 5:45, are said to be good, this is through a righteousness by faith (Romans 4:5, Philippians 3:9) and not by works, for “no one living is righteous before” God on their own record (Psalm 143:2; cf. Psalm 130:3).)  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Or go back to the Sermon on the Mount, where to be angry with your brother is to commit murder and to have a lustful thought is to commit adultery (Matthew 5:21-30), sins punishable by death in the Old Testament (Leviticus 24:17, 20:10).  Indeed, even the tiniest sin is worthy of eternal damnation (Romans 6:23) since it is nothing less than, in the words of R.C. Sproul, an act of “cosmic treason” against the Almighty and most holy God. We so often think of sin as a negligible scratch or blemish. It is not. Even when we are deeply mournful over our sin, we are not even remotely close to fully grasping how repulsive, grievous, and perverse our sin really is. No, reader, you do not want God to give you what He owes you or what you deserve. All our works, even our best ones (Isaiah 64:6), make us deserving of Hell.

What remarkable grace it is, then, for God to allow sinners one day, even one more hour, on earth. Again, this is not only true for the worst sinners but all who are outside of Christ (Luke 13:5) and under the wrath of God (John 3:36). It is astonishing that God would allow those who have refused to repent and believe the gospel — who are more guilty than the people of Sodom (Matthew 11:24), who were destroyed by fire from Heaven (Genesis 19:24) —to enjoy abundance, comfort, laughter and the beauty of His creation, to have a family and caring friends, to sit in a warm home with a good book and to enjoy the benefits of modern technology and medicine. Such “common grace,” as it is called, is given to the unjust and evil.

While Matthew 5:45 focuses on God’s love to this group, Christians should rejoice in such things when they receive them, too.  Although they have been forgiven all their sins through Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7), are saved from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10), and are freed from any condemnation (Romans 8:1), Christians are not guaranteed another day on earth nor any earthly comforts (cf. Matthew 16:24-25, Hebrews 11:36-38). Such common grace, which also includes such things as God’s restraint of evil (Romans 1:22-32, 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8), is most worthy of praise. When such blessings are taken away, we should thank God for having enjoyed them and not “charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). Furthermore, the dismantling of societal morality, as we see today, allows us to see more clearly the depravity of man, just how much God has done in the past and our total reliance on Him. We will never fully grasp the blessings of common grace, but Christians often see it most clearly when it wanes.

Let me conclude with a note to non-Christians. You may be quite pleased with all the things God has given you, but remember that these good things you enjoy will mean nothing if you continue your present course (Luke 12:20-21, 16:25). “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4), and such blessings you have received serve as a “witness” (Acts 14:17) to God’s goodness. If you do not know repent and believe, you will despise all such graces you now enjoy, for you have sinned against greater mercy, and thus, by enjoying them yet refusing to give thanks to God by worshipping Him, you are incurring a greater and greater punishment. While God still grants you days and the offer of the gospel is still available, I plead with you to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7). Do not think you can hide behind a lack of knowledge, and do not think your works can save you. But do not fear to come to Christ, for He will “never cast out” any that “come to” Him (John 6:37) and can save by His “blood,” which “cleanses us of all sin” (1 John 1:7), even the greatest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Go to Him even now; “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


Antisemitism and the abortion debate

A common feature of the abortion debate is employing religious rhetoric to justify one’s position. This is especially true among the Religious Right, who frequently reference Christian values and religious teachings to support their position against abortion. However, the Religious Right doesn’t hold a monopoly on religious rhetoric. Although some religions hold a firm stance against abortion, there’s a wide variety of positions on the topic among different faiths. Like many issues, not every religion agrees on abortion. 

Regardless of the extent to which religion informs one’s position on abortion, religious rhetoric has an influential role in the political sphere. Religious language in advocacy has serious implications for policymaking and legal interpretations. If our arguments are rooted in religious teachings, then those values will be reflected in the text, analysis and enforcement of the laws that follow. For instance, consider Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the decision that overturned a woman’s federal right to an abortion. In it, Justice Alito described a fetus as an “unborn human being” as opposed to the “potential life” terminology used in Roe v. Wade. Although not explicitly religious, Alito’s language instituted a narrative rooted in some religious traditions’ view of when life begins. When numerous states began criminalizing abortion in nearly all circumstances, part of their justification was found in this language. 

We know that religious rhetoric has a real effect on abortion policy, but it’s also important to note that the language we use can also affect perceptions towards different groups. How we frame an issue and our word choice can be rooted in dangerous rhetoric, even if that wasn’t our intention. In today’s column, my intention is to highlight this issue for Jews in the abortion debate. Because Judaism purports a more lenient stance on abortion than some faiths, at least in some circumstances, and American Jews are overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing abortion in all or most cases, it’s easy for antisemitism to manifest. I’ll discuss in two ways how some language in the abortion debate is rooted in antisemitism. 

The first aspect to consider is how some anti-abortion rhetoric is embedded in the blood libel accusation often levied against Jews. American Jewish Committee defines the blood libel as a “perpetuated accusation that Jews have murdered non-Jews (such as Christian children) in order to use their blood in rituals.” Despite blood rituals being expressly forbidden in the Torah and Jewish law, the allegation has persisted throughout history. The first identified case of the blood libel in medieval Europe was William of Norwich in 1144. After William, a young boy, was found stabbed to death in the woods, the Jews in the area were accused of engaging in a ritual murder of him. Despite no evidence to support the claim, the blood libel persisted across Europe during the Middle Ages. It continued into the Protestant Reformation as Eastern European Jews were subjected to pogroms or anti-Jewish riots. Arab Jews also experienced the blood libel, most notably with the 1840 Damascus Affair. During World War II, the Nazis frequently employed the blood libel in their propaganda. Even after the Holocaust, the blood libel has persisted to justify dehumanization, persecution and violence toward Jews. 

The connection between blood libel and abortion is found in language identifying abortion as “child sacrifice.” As the Anti-Defamation League notes, antisemites allege that Jews employ abortion as a means to participate in child sacrifices for Moloch, a Caananite deity. We see this dangerous rhetoric today. Following the Dobbs decision, writer E. Michael Jones equated child sacrifice to Jews. Moreover, choosing to describe abortion as child sacrifice is participation in the antisemitic trope, even if one doesn’t mention Jews. Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently described the Democratic Party as “a child sacrifice cult” during an abortion segment. Kristina Karamo, the Trump-endorsed Michigan nominee for secretary of state, claimed abortion constitutes “child sacrifice” and a “satanic practice.” Although neither explicitly mentioned Jews, their language is rooted in the history behind the antisemitic trope. 

The second aspect of antisemitism in the abortion debate is analogizing the Holocaust to aborted fetuses. Among opponents of abortion, some have employed comparisons to the Holocaust to justify a view that abortion is a moral tragedy. Republican politicians have routinely likened abortion to the Holocaust and Nazism. Jason Shepherd, a Republican state representative in Georgia, suggested that companies that provide abortion access for employees are similar to the Nazis persecuting Jews. The Republican nominee for Illinois governor, Darren Bailey, argued that the Holocaust “doesn’t even compare” to deaths from abortion. In 2019, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed a law that compared abortion to the Holocaust in its text.

These Holocaust comparisons are antisemitic because of their underlying effect of distorting the reality of the tragic event. The Holocaust was the systematic extermination of six million European Jews and was the result of Nazi rhetoric meant to dehumanize the Jewish people. Any effort to liken the Holocaust to another event, no matter what it is, diminishes the experiences of Holocaust victims and survivors. It ignores their suffering for political gain through cheap talking points. At the same time, it undermines efforts to emphasize the seriousness of the Holocaust. We should care about the Holocaust because it was the Holocaust, not because some other issue appears similar to it. 

The point of this column is not to take a stance on abortion. Rather, my intention is for readers to take careful note of the rhetoric they employ when they discuss abortion. The language we use to articulate our arguments matters and has serious implications. If we tolerate antisemitic rhetoric, even when it’s not clearly antisemitic, it normalizes those behaviors and spurs prejudiced attitudes towards Jews. 

Blake Ziegler is a senior at Notre Dame studying political science, philosophy and constitutional studies. He enjoys writing about Judaism, the good life, pressing political issues and more. Outside of The Observer, Blake serves as president of the Jewish Club and a teaching assistant for God and the Good Life. He can be reached at @NewsWithZig on Twitter or

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


Fr. Pete McCormick, other Campus Ministry officials promoted

Fr. Pete McCormick was promoted as the inaugural assistant vice president for campus ministry, with three other campus ministry employees promoted to director roles.

McCormick’s new title, along with the promotion of three other campus ministry professionals, was announced Tuesday by director of communications for the division of student affairs Kate Morgan.

McCormick, who was ordained as a Holy Cross priest in 2007, has served as the director of campus ministry since 2015. Before this, McCormick was the rector of Keough Hall.

Morgan outlined McCormick’s new role and noted that his duties overseeing the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, providing pastoral support to faculty and staff and contributing to campus ministry will continue.

“As assistant vice president, Father McCormick will lead the University’s faith formation, spiritual life and liturgical offerings of undergraduate, graduate and professional students within the division of student affairs,” Morgan said.

The announcement included a quote from vice president for student affairs Fr. Gerry Olinger:

“Father Pete has clearly and consistently demonstrated his leadership and presence on our campus and, as we prepare to implement our next strategic plan, I am grateful for the many ways Father Pete and our Campus Ministry team have and will continue to contribute to discussions around the role of faith in our students’ lives,” he said.

The three other promotions in Campus Ministry are Tami Schmitz, Kate Barrett and Mike Buckler. They will serve as directors of pastoral care, liturgy and student ministry, respectively.


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


Faith alone

Paul’s most scathing words are found in Galatians, where he vigorously defends the doctrine of justification by faith. Why was this teaching so important to him?  

Let us look at a passage in Galatians 3: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law’” (Galatians 3:10 NRSV). God requires no less than perfect obedience. There are no small, insignificant sins. One white lie, one angry word, one lustful gaze brings God’s curse and is worthy of eternal condemnation (Romans 5:15, 6:23). Justification through the law is “all or nothing.” That is, it is not as if a sinner can earn God’s favor by pointing to all the parts of the law they have obeyed as much as a murderer can be acquitted by telling the judge of his community service. As James writes, “[W]hoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). No one is righteous in God’s sight by their works (Psalm 143:2).

Our sin, however, is much deeper than this, for it is not merely the case that we aren’t perfect but “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth” (Isaiah 64:6). Let me ask you this: have you ever truly loved the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and loved your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27)? Even brief introspection will prove that you have not — not by a long shot. There is so much self-centeredness, pride, greed, hate, deceit and ingratitude in our hearts. We see glimpses of this in everyday life, but we don’t even know its depths. Since our hearts are so far from pure, how can any of our actions be pleasing and acceptable before God? They cannot. Thus, it can rightly be said that all our actions are marked by sin and, if we were to stand even on the merit of our best works, each would bring upon us condemnation and God’s wrath. If you are depending on your own good works and performance to merit eternal life, in part or whole, there is no hope for you. You will be damned. All who rely on works of the law are under a curse.

At this point, some may suggest that I’ve overstepped and that the works of the law in Galatians 3:10 refer to only the ceremonial law. While the crisis in Galatia surrounded circumcision, Paul’s teaching here is not restricted to the ceremonial law but includes the moral law as well. This is evidenced by his citation of Deuteronomy 27:26 here and Leviticus 18:5 in 3:12, which describe the general nature of the whole law and are found in passages primarily discussing the moral law. Further, such an understanding of the law in Galatians 3:10 is consistent with other passages in Galatians (5:3,14) and Romans (2:13-29, 7:7-12). But I digress.

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’  But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them’” (Galatians 3:11-12). Notice the opposing nature of justification by works and that of faith. The law promises life based on performance; if you’re good enough, you’ll be saved. But justification by faith does not rest on your own works, your own performance or your own purity but on that of Another, Jesus Christ. He is the Object of our faith. Now this faith is not mere intellectual assent but a living trust in Him and His finished work. Just as Abraham, in his old age, believed in God’s promises and was saved thereby, so also those “who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24) will be saved. Note, too, that this salvation is by faith alone and not by works. “Now to the one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to the one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness irrespective of works: ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.’” (Romans 4:4-8).

But how can God justify the ungodly? Galatians 3:13 helps us here: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” He suffered the wrath of God our sins deserved. “[H]e was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). His substitutionary death has fully paid for all our sins (Colossians 2:13-14). It is a finished and sufficient sacrifice (Hebrews 10:18). Nothing, including your good works, can be added to it; how can you add something to an already perfect and finished sacrifice? Our salvation, then, can only be by faith alone, and therefore boasting is eliminated (Ephesians 2:9).

If we rely on our own merit for any part of our salvation, we will never find hope and rest. As we face death and when we stand before God, we will know that none of our good deeds merit eternal life. Only a wholly sufficient and complete Savior and sacrifice can bring us to glory, and praise God that He has given us such a salvation in Christ! On that day, you will desperately need this Rock of Ages. It is the only way any of us can be saved. Let us, then, say with that famous hymn, “I need no other argument, I need no other plea, It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me.”

Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.


‘The Art of Faith’ exhibit now open at Holy Cross

In an effort to showcase the diversity of religious art in the area and celebrate the intersection of artwork and the Catholic faith, Angelo Ray Martinez, a Holy Cross professor and the director of the St. Joseph Gallery organized and curated ‘The Art of Faith.’ Open to visitors on the Holy Cross campus until Dec. 16, this exhibition features 10 artists from a variety of artistic and Catholic backgrounds, all with the united vision of sharing what faith looks like to them. 

The pieces on show include both artwork commissioned specifically for the exhibit and pieces like that of Melonie Mulkey, an adjunct professor of visual arts. Her work, ‘The Five Wounds,’ was featured in a two-person exhibition called ‘Innermost’ at the University of Notre Dame earlier this year.

Mulkey’s work ‘The Five Wounds’ is on display in the St. Joesph Gallery until Dec. 16. / Courtesy of Angelo Ray Martínez

Mulkey, an experienced artist, said this exhibit is different than some of the others she has been in.

“This is, in a really long list of exhibitions, the first one I’ve been in that specifically addresses and talks about faith,” Mulkey said.

Mulkey’s excitement at the unique nature of the exhibition and its artwork is also reflected in local artist and high school art teacher Anastassia (Tess) Cassady, who made last year’s Paschal candle for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

“Fusing Catholicism and interesting, heartfelt and original art is something that hasn’t been seen in a long time,” she said. “When I do something that’s artistic and religious, fellow artists will respect the artistry of it but can say ‘I don’t want anything to do with Christianity, why would you mix the two’ so I was really impressed with the fact [Martinez] found such a wide variety of art.”

Bringing together the local community of Catholic artists was a major component of Martinez’ vision, he said.

“There aren’t a lot of art venues that dedicate themselves to exhibiting contemporary faith-based artworks, so it can be difficult to find the conversations and discourse that is necessary to progressing your work,” Martinez said.

This type of collaboration is something Cassady said she is all for and thinks it could serve a greater purpose in reaching the wider Catholic community.

“I think it’s a great idea, especially for parishes to have someplace to both bring artists together, but also educate the congregation with original artwork that they have never seen before, rather than the same printouts that are faded [churches] that they don’t really notice anymore — not because it’s not striking, but that it’s nothing new,” she explained.

Martinez expressed that he hopes both Catholics and non-Catholics can gain something from the exhibit.

“I hope that visitors are able to reflect on their own Catholic faith in a deeper way if they are of the faith, and if they are not, that they are able to better appreciate some of the beauty and mysteries of Catholicism,” Martinez said.

As for the effects of this exhibition, Mulkey said she is confident it will make a positive impact on the Catholic communities’ response to more modern, faith-based art.

Contact Kate Naessens at


Ansari Institute awards Australian Scholar with Nasr Book Prize

The Ansari Institute awarded the first annual Nasr Book Prize to Australian scholar Tyson Yunkaporta Sunday night for his book, ‘Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.’

The award, according to executive director of the Ansari Institute Mahan Mirza, was created to “recognize an author who’s written a remarkable work and contributes to fresh thinking about global issues.”

Yunkaporta, a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland, Australia, said he explores global issues from an indigenous perspective in “Sand Talk.”

“I’m not sure the book was arguing anything so much as just really trying to speak from an indigenous worldview,” Yunkaporta told The Observer. “But I didn’t bother trying to explain myself and what it meant. I just looked at the world and spoke… from who I am.”

Yunkaporta, in his book, ponders the importance of intergenerational relationships. The practice of sand drawings in his culture, he said, creates traditions that can remain for far longer than physical data.

“Long after all the books crumble into dust and all the computers are just a geological layer, my children’s children’s children’s children’s children will still be drawing the same thing in the sand,” he said. “That’s the only way to safely store data, it’s in a story, intergenerational relationships.”

Mirza said temporary art, such as sand drawings, best capture how knowledge is contextual. The permanent nature of western textual knowledge, he said, can be damaging because “it’s removed from its point of origin.”

The book passed the new award’s four eligibility requirements, St. Olaf College professor of religion and philosophy Anantanand Rambachan said at the dinner. 

The award required the author to have an authentic voice, be academically informed, engage in contemporary issues of global affairs and have been published within the past five years. After listing each requirement, Rambachan quoted “Sand Talk” to show how the book qualified.

The Ansari Institute had over 30 submissions for the prize, Rambachan said, and the selection committee narrowed the pool of contestants down to five books.

“Then, we read all the five, and we unanimously said this book,” he said.

Along with honoring Yunkaporta, the dinner featured a “yarn” in which Yunkaporta conversed with Carolyn Brown, the board chair of the Fetzer Institute, about his book’s message. 

Yunkaporta demonstrated the art of sand talks for the audience at the end of the discussion, drawing symbols in a small sandbox on stage representing indigenous ideas. 

The award dinner, held at the Smith Ballroom in the Morris Inn, was part of a two-day symposium in which scholars from different religious and cultural traditions engaged with Yunkaporta’s text in different panels.

While the prize dinner focused on the book itself, the symposium’s panels sought to foster engagement with the text, Mirza explained.

“The larger project is to generate a multifaith conversation around those issues that can somehow be convened by the book that has been published,” Mirza said.

Mirza noted his belief that Notre Dame is distinctly capable of flourishing an event like the symposium.

“Such an event really is possible only at places like Notre Dame that are both committed to academic research and at the same time, where faith is important,” he said.

Contact Liam Price at


Religion is for Democrats too, not just Republicans

You wouldn’t be alone in associating religion with the Republican Party and secularism with the Democratic Party. Over the last several decades, the rise of the Religious Right has cemented the fact that the Republican Party is dominated by white evangelicals inserting religious views into the party platform. Today, that sentiment is only reinforced as Republican candidates infuse Christianity into their campaign strategy. At Republican rallies this year, we’ve witnessed praise music, prayer, and other practices typically associated with religious worship. These religious practices at campaign events aren’t superfluous either, as Republican candidates call to end the separation between church and state and declare the United States a Christian nation. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has struggled with religion due to the diverse religious and non-religious portions of its membership. In an effort to not alienate voters, Democrats have avoided religious rhetoric, often joined by criticism that they aren’t doing enough outreach to religious voters. 

However, that appears to be changing. During the 2020 election, a significant number of Democrats engaged in religious outreach. During the primary campaign, then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg routinely referenced his faith to demonstrate that Democrats can be religious too. In one debate, Buttigieg employed a religious offensive against the Republican Party for hypocrisy between its platform and profession of Christianity. Other presidential hopefuls like Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and then-Senator Kamala Harris also utilized religious rhetoric, speaking about their connection to G-d and specifically Christianity. President Joe Biden worked on extensive outreach to white Catholic and white evangelical voters, reducing former President Donald Trump’s performance among those groups enough to help solidify his victory. 

Religion also made an appearance with both Democratic candidates for the two seats in the 2020-2021 U.S. Senate elections in Georgia. Senators Warnock and Ossoff’s election was a pivotal moment for the Democratic Party, securing a majority in the Senate. The infusion of his progressive views and background as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King preached, was a key factor in Senator Raphael Warnock’s victory. Although more hesitant to mention religion during the campaign, Senator Jon Ossoff referenced the Jewish values that informed his political views and became the first Jewish candidate to win statewide office in the South since 1974.

Additionally, we’re witnessing candidates in the 2022 midterm elections build off the religious momentum over the last several years. Warnock has made religion a central message of his reelection campaign, emphasizing the joint nature of devotion to faith and commitment to social justice. His messaging routinely references his religious work and how it informs his political views. Just like it delivered him for his initial election, Warnock is hoping Georgia voters will be drawn to his religious fervor. 

Also in Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, uses religion, but in a different way. As abortion becomes a pressing issue in all elections after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Abrams has discussed the role her faith has played in shaping her views on the subject. She’s openly discussed how her upbringing by Methodist preachers informed her initial stance against abortion, but she’s since changed her beliefs after viewing it as a health issue, not a moral one. Her approach to abortion opens a new vantage point for Democrats to reach voters who may be personally opposed to abortion, but are hesitant to attempts throughout the country to reduce access to it. 

In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running for governor openly as a Jew and refusing to cede religious voters to his opponent, Doug Mastriano, a state senator. Shapiro has used his devout faith to reach out to religious voters, especially Black Protestants in the state by attending worship services and speaking from the pulpit. He’s routinely referenced his faith during campaign events, hoping that some voters who typically vote Republican on religious grounds consider switching. Among other Democratic candidates who employ religious rhetoric, he’s especially notable for attacking Christian nationalism as an assault on religious liberty, especially for religious minorities.

Although religion may appear to be a new winning strategy for Democrats, it isn’t risk-free. In the last two decades, Democrats themselves have become less religious in their membership. This isn’t to say that non-religious Democrats would vote Republican, but it does risk alienation and low voter turnout. These candidates are wagering that religious rhetoric will either deliver more voters or drive voters away from Republicans, but the threat of alienation will always be present for a party as religiously diverse as the Democratic Party. This isn’t to argue that Democrats who reference religion will lose (we’ve seen that’s not always the case), but to point out there’s a reason why Democrats have been cautious about religious rhetoric in the past. Even if elected, the division in the Democratic Party between the religious and non-religious suggests that while religious rhetoric may contribute to electoral victory, it doesn’t necessarily translate to religious influence in policymaking. 

This column is not an endorsement of religion as a political tool for Democrats or Republicans. The question of religion’s role in politics is separate from my observations of the trends in the Democratic Party. The last few years are a demonstration that Democrats can successfully utilize religion as an outreach method on the campaign trail. Although religion may still be tied heavily to the Republican Party, we’re beginning to see pushback from the Democratic Party and a potential shift in the way that religion operates in the political sphere. 

Blake Ziegler is a senior at Notre Dame studying political science, philosophy and constitutional studies. He enjoys writing about Judaism, the good life, pressing political issues and more. Outside of The Observer, Blake serves as president of the Jewish Club and a teaching assistant for God and the Good Life. He can be reached at @NewsWithZig on Twitter or

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


UK Diplomat Catherine Arnold visits University

The University of Notre Dame welcomed Catherine Arnold as a guest speaker at the Eck Visitor Center on Sept. 12.

Arnold is a British academic administrator and former UK diplomat. Since Oct. 2019, she has been the Master of St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge. Arnold is the fifteenth person to hold that post and the first woman.

After being introduced by vice president and associate provost for internationalization, Michael Pippenger, Arnold gave a speech reflecting on the roles of academic institutions and religion in shaping ethical, global leaders.

Arnold used the example of the recently late Queen Elizabeth II of England to reflect on change and constancy.

“’I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong,’” she quoted from the British monarch. “Even before taking the reins of power, she proved to be an exemplary leader.”

Arnold said she believed human nature was the primary obstacle to leadership and unity.

“As technology changes all around us, humans remain stubbornly constant,” she told the audience.

She specifically provided one of her alma maters, Cambridge, as an example of how allowing a Catholic influence through its St. Edmund’s college would strangle free thought.

“Both [the church and the college] had a fear of change,” Arnold commented. “It is not enough to hold a world-class degree… indeed, there is more room in educational establishments other than just academic fundamentals.”

She followed by saying that Notre Dame is a leading example of how the combination of mind and heart can be accomplished.

Pippenger said he sees this theme at work in his duties overseeing Notre Dame international gateways and their goal to attract parts of the world not traditionally attracted. He said he calls Notre Dame an “experiment of globalization.”

Through discussion, Arnold and Pippenger said they agreed that by going out into the world and training to be a global citizen, students can recognize how religion plays into education, free speech, public policy, ethical business practice and other areas.

Arnold said she hopes Notre Dame will foster more “conscious leaders.” She said she believes that it is crucial to train leaders who understand their impact on others and that a conscious leader must be comfortable and resolved in making decisions that exclude others.

“The more power you have, the more you realize that there is often no right or wrong answer; you almost always exclude someone,” she explained.

Arnold also was able to provide the Observer with some guidance for Notre Dame students, connecting her lecture themes with real-world advice.

“Don’t ever listen to just one person’s piece of advice,” she said. “Seek out different people’s perspectives, and then continue to press both them and yourself with existential ‘why’ and ‘so what’ questions.”