A look at Dublin program’s services to meet study abroad students’ pastoral needs


Sitting in the home of the Dublin Program Director and looking around at my fellow students, I could not help feeling like a member of the early Christian faith, celebrating Mass in the home of a friend.  We celebrated our first Mass after arriving in Dublin in this setting, and it immediately gave me a sense of welcome not only to Ireland, but to its long and ancient Catholic tradition.

Studying abroad presents students with countless opportunities and new experiences, but not without challenges.  One difficulty often overlooked in one’s study abroad experience is the struggle to develop one’s faith in a new environment.  The leaders of the Dublin program work hard every day to ensure that students’ spirituality can flourish while abroad.

Program Director Kevin Whelan told the Rover, “Parents and others will describe Notre Dame as a Catholic Disneyland.  It is very easy to be fired up and enthusiastic about your Catholicism at Notre Dame … When people leave Notre Dame, it can be a challenge and a struggle to find a comparable level of engagement because Notre Dame does campus ministry very well.  The big difference is that when you come to Dublin, it is a totally different campus ministry need.”

Jack Rooney, the Campus Ministry intern in Dublin, spoke with the Rover about students’ spiritual needs abroad.  “I definitely think that regardless of where you are in your faith life, your spiritual needs are going to change based upon your context, your environment,” he said.

“I think we do a great job providing plenty of opportunities to continue to grow in our faith and to not let being away from Notre Dame for a semester be an excuse to let your spiritual life go into neutral for a while,” Rooney continued.

To respond to students’ unique pastoral needs abroad, the Dublin program offers many opportunities for students to expand their faith.  For example, Sarah Cahalan and Angie Schott work for the House of Brigid.  In this capacity, they spend half of their time directing programs and teaching children at the local Dublin parish, Harold’s Cross, and half of their time providing ministry services for Notre Dame students in the Dublin program.

Every week, the Campus Ministry team in Dublin has “Tuesday Time Outs,” which are evenings of reflection and prayer.  “It is a time we set aside for specifically Catholic spiritual purposes, and within that time we can explore whatever we want to explore and share what we want to share,” Rooney noted.  “I think it’s a great opportunity once a week to take a timeout and slow down and take that little bit of time to focus very specifically on your faith life outside of the context of the Mass.”

Students often lead these “Tuesday Time Outs,” giving them a chance to share their unique ways of connecting with God.

Campus Ministry in Dublin also offers mass at the program’s home base, O’Connell House, monthly or bimonthly.  Rooney leads walkovers to the Catholic church Harold’s Cross each Saturday night, followed by milkshakes, reminiscent of Dillon Hall’s famous “Milkshake Mass.”

In order to connect students to Ireland’s ancient Catholic history, the program also offers a retreat each semester.  Last semester, the students travelled to Kylemore Abbey, and this semester students will be going on a day retreat to Glendalough Valley.

Referring to these retreats, Angie Schott tells the Rover, “We are trying to facilitate a way for students to experience the Catholic culture that is already around.”

When people come abroad, they are looking for engagement with the culture,” Whelan told the Rover.  “Ireland has a very long ancient spiritual tradition, so I think people are interested in engaging in that … It gives you a comparative perspective on your own faith and your own country and your own faith tradition … Students want an authentic experience and engagement with Irish society or culture, and the Catholic dimension is a big part of that, too.”

Leaders of the program also accommodate those who wish to serve others and promote their faith through volunteering.  Students can participate in Community-Based Learning (CBL) in Dublin, volunteering mainly at local schools.

Melanie Runkle—a current abroad student in Dublin—told the Rover about her CBL experience as a tutor for recent immigrants:

“I really enjoy my CBL because it helps me feel like a real part of the Dublin community, not only because I get to meet some very authentic Irish men and women, but also because it gives me firsthand knowledge and experience with the current Irish issue of immigration.  As our program director Kevin frequently says: study abroad is about learning with the soles of your feet and through experiences with different people.  I hope to learn as much from the young women I tutor as they learn from me!”

The Dublin program offers extensive opportunities to expand one’s spiritual life, while connecting students to the ancient Catholic tradition present in Ireland.

Caroline Corsones is a junior English major with a minor in business economics.  She is currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland.  One could say that she puts the “Irish” in Irish Rover.  Contact her at ccorsone@nd.edu.