Abigail Bartels, Staff Writer


Obamacare. Mandates. Contraception. Insurance. Employees. Notre Dame and other Catholic institutions face many possible changes regarding the healthcare they provide. One question that gives context to this discussion remains largely unanswered. How does Notre Dame’s Catholic identity shape its healthcare services?

Student, faculty, parents and the media have frequently called Notre Dame’s religious identity into question for decisions including the invitation of President Obama to speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree in 2009, and the showng of the Vagina Monologues on campus. Healthcare is the most recent arena in which the university’s founding principles are being tested.

The status quo of Catholicism and healthcare on campus can create confusion as to whether the two are truly intertwined. The university bases its mission in regards to health services on supporting the six dimensions of wellness: physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional and occupational. For these reasons, the university provides services through the University Counseling Center (UCC), the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education and McDonald’s Physical Therapy.

As stated on the University Health Services website, “…all dimensions of our health care services respect the dignity of each individual and support the Catholic character of the University.” Discovering the actual practical application of this statement is more difficult than it may appear. Despite 8 individual interview requests and three unsuccessful visits to Saint Liam Hall for information, only one individual representing the university was willing to grant the Rover an interview.

Bill Stackman, Associate Vice President for Student Services, is responsible for overseeing the health and wellness unit at Notre Dame. This includes the University Counseling Center and University Health Services, both of which are housed at St. Liam’s. He referred to the Health Services’ claim to support ND’s Catholic character and added, “The University fully supports the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching related to health care. The medical professionals and staff at St. Liam are committed to high-quality care on campus and in association with local doctors and hospitals.” While this clearly lays out Notre Dame’s intentions, the question remains: How does this mission concretely affect students, faculty, staff and their families who receive healthcare of some kind at the university?

Doctors are not required to provide any type of religious influence in their practice, though the Hippocratic oath does traditionally include a refusal to give a woman an abortifacient. The counselors at the UCC do not necessarily espouse counseling philosophies in line with Catholic social teaching. The word “Catholic” appears only once in the UCC’s mission statement. It is used to describe the “intelligent, highly motivated, predominantly Catholic student body,” not the UCC’s attitude toward its clients.

Staff members throughout the university’s health care system are not required to provide information pertaining to their religious beliefs and how those beliefs affect their interactions with patients.

Another way to evaluate the Catholic identity of ND Health Services is to analyze its sponsored events. The UCC, the Wellness Center and other branches of health care at Notre Dame put on events for students, faculty and staff. At least one of these events features a contested topic in Catholic practice: yoga.

Due to its spiritual foundation in the divinity of the person, the focus on the body as an enemy of the mind and the idea that a fallen human can by himself or herself achieve enlightenment, yoga has long been a controversial issue for Catholics. The Wellness ND website provides information about various types of yoga, stating that it includes “spiritual, physical and mental aspects of wellness.” While some individuals certainly find yoga spirituality beneficial, the university forgoes more Catholic options (for example, Holy Yoga—the physical workout of yoga with a Christian or Catholic spirituality) for the non-Catholic option. Like the personnel and mission statements, the events Notre Dame offers in regards to spiritual health do not necessarily reflect a Catholic identity.

As allergies and spring colds descend upon campus, students will struggle to stay healthy, and the university will strive to uphold its Catholic identity. While one problem is easily fixed with orange juice and Sudafed, the other presents unique challenges to our home under the dome. A prescription for more explanation from the administration as to how exactly its health services reflect the Catholic character of the university may be in order.

Abigail Bartels is a sophomore political science major from Minnesota who enjoys the ukulele, movies, ice cream and long walks in the snow. Contact her at abartel2@nd.edu.