To the University of Dallas students, the Church of the Incarnation has always been a familiar sanctuary for daily Mass and late-night Eucharistic Adoration and, on Saturday afternoons, a place to do homework while waiting in the Confession line before Mass.
It has also been the subject of discussion following another theft last Tuesday.
A student reported to the Campus Safety Office (CSO) that his backpack containing his wallet, cash and laptop was stolen from the church between 4:15 and 4:30 p.m. Back in Sept. 2015, when a student’s iPhone was stolen from her unattended tote bag, a community crime alert from CSO said, “On our campus, this kind of theft is highly unusual.”
Some are not sure about that now, after a junior had her wallet stolen out of her backpack during noon Mass and seniors had a backpack with car keys inside taken.
Others on campus have begun to question what should be done about the recent thefts, especially after a suspicious individual with no ID or reason to be on campus was found in the church the following morning.
Chaplain Fr. Don Dvorak said in an email that signs have been put up inside the church asking students to take their backpacks into church and place them under the chairs on which they are sitting.
“It is very easy for someone to simply come into church and grab a backpack that is there on the floor near the entrance,” Fr. Dvorak wrote in an email. “When you are sitting in church you cannot see what is happening in that area. If they do not want to take their backpacks into church, they should at least take their valuables with them.”
CSO advised similar caution. A community crime alert sent out to the student body stressed the importance of never leaving valuables unattended and reporting suspicious persons or activities to officers immediately.
Fr. Dvorak said in an email that he has asked CSO to check on the church more frequently when they make their rounds around campus.
Denise Phillips, Director of Campus Ministry, also suggested the importance of having an officer present at every Mass.
In response to questions regarding possible cameras in the church, Phillips said that decision would be left up to the administration.
“Fr. Don is responsible for the sacramental life of the church, but it’s a university building,” Phillips said. “It’s the administration’s responsibility.”
She added that students might feel that they can leave their belongings out in the open, but this is neither safe nor prudent.
“We feel safe because we’re on a college campus, but if you were at St. Monica’s or another church … you would take your stuff with you,” Phillips said. “[At UD], we need to learn to practice living in the real world, where this kind of thing happens.”
Phillips did say that UD is located in a safe neighborhood where crime is rare, but as the surrounding area and enrollment have increased, more activity — both good and bad — is natural.
“Back when I came here 20 years ago, nobody knew where we were,” Phillips said, adding that UD’s now larger, more open campus near the DART and Northpark Mall is not at all an unthinkable target for thieves.
Phillips said that, above all, student vigilance and responsibility are most important.
“Backpacks are left all the time in the bathroom, and there are still people leaving stuff unattended after the thefts,” Phillips said. “But you should bring your stuff with you. Just bring it in, guys.”
CSO was unavailable for further comment beyond reminding students to report suspicious activity and stay aware of their surroundings.