Fr. Gerry Olinger outlines how he hopes to advance the goals of Notre Dame and the Church
“Find time to reflect, find time to pray.” Fr. Gerry Olinger C.S.C., the newly appointed Vice President for Student Affairs, told the Rover, “This is the main message that I’d like our students to hear.” During the interview, Fr. Olinger spoke directly regarding what he sees as the greatest issues facing the University of Notre Dame and how he hopes to use his new role to help the student body deal with them.
Appointed to this role last May, Fr. Olinger replaced former Vice President, Erin Hoffman-Harding. Olinger completed his undergraduate studies, law school, and theological studies at the university. Since being ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in April, 2010, Fr. Olinger has been assigned at the University of Portland, including for a time as their Vice President for Student Affairs, and he has served for the past three years as Notre Dame’s Vice President for Mission. In his interview, Fr. Olinger expressed gratitude that he is now able to work more directly with the students of his alma mater: “This place has been so important in my own personal formation, and I now get to help to contribute to the formation of others.”
Fr. Olinger told the Rover that he feels that his position as both a priest in residence in Alumni Hall and an administrator gives him a unique opportunity to help students: “I think that it’s really important as a priest to be able to celebrate the sacraments—to be a pastoral presence is really a big part of my own personal vocation. But as Vice President for Student Affairs, [living in a residence hall] is a really important grounding in the lives of our students.
“I think it also gives you a sense of what students are thinking about, what they’re worrying about. Living in residence is also very helpful in my preaching, because often you read the scriptures through the lens of experiences that you know are happening in the lives of students, conversations that we’re having, and you end up preaching through those scriptures into the life of our students. And I would say a similar process happens as an administrator. I’m thinking about various issues impacting student life [while being] grounded in the experiences of our students, and that helps me to make decisions.”
Olinger listed three areas towards which he plans to focus his efforts during the coming months, one of which is the crises of faith among young adults. He cited a recent Gallup Poll in which a majority of 18-22 year olds consider themselves “religiously disaffiliated.” He continued, “I think that Notre Dame has a unique role to play when thinking about this, when thinking about how we help to introduce conversations about faith and spirituality to our students, how we encourage our students to be able to engage in this type of discernment and these questions.”
Fr. Olinger also intends to focus on the continued effects of the pandemic. He especially emphasized its detrimental effect on students’ mental well-being, especially with increased levels of depression and anxiety. He stated, “I think that our students need to find time to be able to reflect, and I hope that the pandemic has begun to provide some of that invitation. I love our students, and I love how academically passionate and curious they are. But sometimes I worry that they are so busy that they don’t have time to reflect, to meditate, to pray, in order to understand their deepest identity as a beloved child of God, or to understand with what gifts they have been blessed by God, and how they’re called to use those gifts.”
Thirdly, Fr. Olinger spoke about the issue of racial injustice. He told the Rover, “I know that there has been the continued reality of racial injustice. Think about the awful incidents of the summer of 2020. I think that that’s a really important conversation for us. How do we think about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the university? How do we work to make our campus more inclusive for all of our students? And how do we ground that work in who we are as a Catholic and as a Holy Cross institution?”
He concluded the interview, stating,
“Fr. Moreau, who founded the Congregation of Holy Cross, talked about education as a work of resurrection. He was founding the congregation during the aftermath of the French Revolution, obviously a time of violence, a time that really tore apart society and created a collapse of both the education system and the sacramental life in France. And he saw education as a way to bring about resurrection in the life of the individual who was being educated, but also for society. I think about that work of resurrection for us. Through our education, we have to die to old ways of thinking when learning new things. Our education itself is transformative. But I believe that it can also be transformative for our society—that it can be a work of resurrection.
I think about the role of faith in our world, at a time when it’s not as important in some people’s lives. How can we at least begin to speak to that and offer that to people in a way that’s invitational, in a way that really can engage people. There are a lot of challenges, but I’m excited about those challenges.”
W. Joseph DeReuil is a sophomore studying in the Program of Liberal Studies, Classics, and Constitutional Studies. Any comments, questions, or (most importantly) reading suggestions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Image Credit: University of Notre Dame Division of Student Affairs