Chapels in dorms: an ongoing conversation

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

For a while, ideas have been floating around in the Office of Student Affairs and higher administration about the possibility of putting chapels in student dorms, as the new Dean of Students, Julia Carrano, recently said.

Although the idea is new for the University of Dallas, other Catholic universities such as Ave Maria and Notre Dame have long since adopted this model.

Many schools see the benefit of residence hall chapels as helping to form stronger, faith-based communities.

Would UD profit greatly from such a model, and when would it be possible to build student chapels?

Carrano expects that residence hall chapels will be seriously considered in future building plans. She spoke of an ever-increasing need for new and renovated student housing. 

Carrano does not see the dorm chapel model as coming into fruition in the near future, as she believes it ought to apply only to new buildings. It would be nearly impossible to convert the traditional dorms properly to accommodate chapels, she said. 

However, she is all for the idea.

“[OSA is] definitely interested in exploring different housing models,” Carrano said.

Carrano thinks that having chapels in the dorms on campus will help UD’s vision of a holistic method of Catholic education.

“We want students to have an integrated approach to their lives. We want everything they do to be integrated [through unity of] mind, body, and soul. We want a housing model that better matches this way of life and bringing in chapels may be a way of doing it,” Carrano said.

Carrano views the student chapels as a potential way for students to form stronger friendships and a better sense of identity. She pointed towards the intimate setting that these chapels would provide, as well as the sense of groundedness in faith that students would find in their new homes. 

She also mentioned the added worship possibilities that would be a positive consequence of having the dorm chapels.

University Chaplain Father Thomas More Barba is also interested in the idea of student chapels coming into the plans for future expansion of the campus. 

Like Carrano, Barba doesn’t think the building process should be rushed or made to fit current housing models.

“We need chapels that are suitable and dignified,” he said.

Barba said that what he thinks is great about Catholic architecture is that it can vary widely in style, and yet still be suitable for the worship of God. 

Barba would like to see more chapels on-campus as the student body grows, especially as the dorm chapels will bring students together when they are most in need of peer support.

“Students tend to pray when most vulnerable, struggling with what all students struggle with —studies, work, family, relationships,” he said.

Barba thinks that the chapels will serve as a more visible sign of faith — a clear symbol of the Mystical Body, united in prayer before the Father.

Barba hopes that the new chapels will instigate the formation of more lay ministers, which is something the university could profit from even now.

But, that is all in the future.

What about now? Are dorm chapels really necessary?

As campus is still small, the church fulfills the basic spiritual needs of students. It is the center of campus, and it is also meant to be the center of students’ lives through the Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Church of the Incarnation already helps to form a strong community through the Mass. Smaller, more private, chapels might detract from that sense of faith-based community. 

It is likely that the Mass will not be celebrated in those chapels. What imparts vitality and unity in faith to a Catholic community more than the Eucharist?

Some believe that the dorm chapels will serve as a more visible reminder of faith for the students.

But even if the dorm chapels were to stand as a reminder of faith, should we really need this extra visible reminder?

Faith is spiritual, as is the Mystical Body of Christ of which we are part. Even as we regard the Church of the Incarnation as the spiritual center of our campus, so also we consider Christ’s sacrifice as the center of our lives and live out that sacrifice daily.

We don’t require extra rooms and gatherings to go out and live Catholic lives.

We gather in the Church and leave empowered with the words “ite, missa est,” “go forth, it has been sent,” ringing in our ears.

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